Food deserts: Lost in a mirage of abundance

Ian Britton. Flickr. August 4, 2009.

Ian Britton. Flickr. August 4, 2009.

Food insecurity is popularly known as not knowing where your next meal is coming from.  Even in a country of abundance like the United States, in 2011, 14.9% of household members weren’t sure they would eat regularly.  Providing assistance in the form of soup kitchens, food pantries, and vouchers or debit cards for the purchase of food isn’t sufficient.  As described and explained by Mari Gallagher, numbers of American communities offer little or no access to healthy foods.  Gallagher developed the term “food deserts” to define these circumstances and geographical areas.  While a great variety of fast and snack foods may be available locally, fresh vegetables and meats are not within ready commuting distance.

For children living in a food desert, chips, candy bars, ice cream, and soda pop constitute their choices for an after school snack.  Their shopping is limited to a corner store or gas station.  The absence of full-service restaurants or diners prevents teens from enjoying omelets, salads, or glasses of milk with their friends.  Busy parents can’t traverse the self-service check-out lane or visit the 15 items or less cashier with salad ingredients and a package of chicken legs after work.    Their choices for a quick dinner are confined to the drive through lane at a community fast food restaurant.  Yes, they may be able to choose among fried fish, hamburgers and fries, and fried chicken.  Still, all of these meals are fried and reconstituted from frozen, not fresh foods.

The travel necessary to shop at a grocery store may prevent food desert residents without cars from shopping at one.  Residents with cars may have to shop less frequently than they need because of the time required to drive to a grocery store.  Their usual diet, then, may lack healthy foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, milk and yogurt, whole grains, and cuts of fresh meat that can be stewed and roasted.  This grocery store deficiency can cause lifelong health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.  An abundance of fried, salty, and sweet foods can be as detrimental to quality of life and longevity as food insecurity.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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