Friday, February 27, 2009

Food Deserts

Why is it that the people who have the least are spending the most on food? People who live in large geographic areas with no or distant grocery stores are considered to live in food deserts. Which leaves these people with local convenient stores as there only option for food shopping. Therefore, your shopping options are severely limited and your health suffers from the lack of healthy foods. “It’s going to be more chips and canned and processed foods, which just play into high rates of obesity, diabetes and other fat-related diseases,” said Andy Fisher, executive director of the Community Food Security Coalition in Venice, Calif. The people who suffer from food deserts are most often found in rural areas but sometimes can be found in urban areas with poor grocery access. The majority of people in these areas will have higher rates premature death from diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease.

It has not always been this way for grocery stores. It was not until the suburbanization of shopping, that the mom-and-pop stores began to close. Big supercenters are able to sell their food for cheaper prices, which is what the consumers want but how do you get to a supercenter if you do not have a car and have to drive 10 miles or more to find one? On top of that, most rural areas do not have excellent public transportation systems either to bring people to the supercenters. The supercenters move into these areas because land is cheap and there are a lot of shoppers. These stores in the end cause smaller stores to close because of their high prices.

For class on this past Friday, we were asked to pretend that the local convenient store was our only option for food shopping. I was impressed with the choices that the corner store I went to had. While there was no fresh produce and no deli meat, there was a large enough selection of canned fruits and vegetables; from pineapple and applesauce to peas and corn. I was able to put together a relatively balanced days worth of meals. Honestly, the three meals that I put together, I would willingly and gladly eat on a regular basis.

However, it was a slightly expensive adventure to the store to feed a family of four. For example, a loaf of white bread cost me $3.39 at the store, while it usually costs around $2.00. Not only is it expensive, but it is also white bread with no nutritional value. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has estimated that groceries average 10% more in food deserts than at suburban grocers. This I feel is the main problem in the issue of food deserts. It is not that people cannot survive on the meals created at convenient stores. It is more that the limited selection is overpriced. It would not be the best food that you have tasted or the best food for you, but if that is your only option, than you learn to deal with it. It is the lack of money which causes people to eat worse and worse. Which in turn causes higher risks of disease due to diet.

When we look at situations like food deserts, we realize how much we do not think twice about going to the grocery store. It is a necessity and always an option for us. Going to the grocery store is never a problem and we take the opportunity to get to one for granted. Using Census and other federal data, Troy Blanchard, a sociologist at Mississippi State University, charted supermarket access nationally. He found it was worst in the West, where 44 percent of the average county’s population has poor access to grocers. Food allergies are a difficult thing to accommodate when you are only able to go to a small, expensive convenient store. It is highly unlikely that you will find gluten-free products at the corner store. We take for granted being able to satisfy our every need and for relatively low prices.

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