How Are Food Deserts Really Affecting Us?

Cross-posted from McKinney & Associate’s ‘Comm in the Storm’ blog, where I write about Diversity issues every Thursday.

If you’re following McKinney’s blog, you know that this week we’re doing a series to prepare for National Food Day, which is next Monday. According to the website, the movement is designed to “push for healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way.” To sponsors and supporters this includes advocating for “food labeling, better nutrition, and safer food,” which sound like great ideas anybody can get behind.

But what good does all of that do if access to those labeled, nutritious and safe foods doesn’t improve?

Map of Food Deserts in USA

Map showing percentage of households throughout the nation currently living in a food desert.

The dilemma of food deserts isn’t new, but with First Lady Michelle Obama shining the spotlight on gaps in communities’ access to healthy food – access meaning “the food is available and affordable” – the discussion is becoming a hot topic.

Much of the conversation surrounding food deserts involves their distribution and effect. While some organizations, like the National Association of Convenience Stores, challenge the view that food deserts significantly affect health and nutrition in a surrounding area, others, like the US Department of Agriculture, have found that 3.2 percent of all US households live between ½ and 1 mile from a supermarket without access to a vehicle. In low income urban areas, that figure jumps to 22 percent. In a city like DC, where our nation’s outrageous socio-economic gaps are starkly illustrated across racial lines, the issue transcends health and food.

Once you set foot in a grocery store, what food you buy is ultimately your decision. You choose whether to eat natural, healthy food or sugary, processed food.

But if getting to a grocery store is in and of itself a daunting endeavor, how likely are you to care whether the food you buy is labeled or produced “safely”?

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