Food Deserts

As you can see from the photos rotating in the header of this blog, I’ve been growing an organic garden for six years now, and I plant sunflowers on two sides of it.  I was not a complete stranger to healthier, organic eating habits. A son with multiple food allergies and propensity to overeating got me on the gardening and bettering eating track.  Yet my diet took a radical turn for the better this past year when a ministers’ study group I belong to took up the topic of food and spirituality.  Not only did I want to eat more organically grown food, I now try to eat as much locally grown and raised food as I possibly can – locavorism.   My take on locavorism is that I try to eat food that comes from within 100 miles of my home, failing that from my state, failing that that comes from local farmers through just economies in other places.  In all instances, I try for organic foods.

My interest in locavorism led to our family buying our first ever Community Supported Agriculture Farm Share this year from the The Food Project in Lincoln, MA – just down the road from Walden Pond.  We chose the Food Project over some other CSA’s, including one in the town next to us because The Food Project is totally organic and they run an educational program that takes agriculture into the inner city and brings young people from the city out to the farm.

Today, in going through my mail, a piece of mail from The Food Project grabbed my attention and taught me a new term – A Food DESERT.  A Food Desert is “an urban district with little or no access to foods needed maintain a healthy diet, but often served by plenty of fast food restaurants.”  Ouch.  Like many people who grew up with computers I went to that vast research library – Google – and started looking up “food desert.”

I learned more.  I learned about suburban deserts:

The term ‘desert’ was used to describe an urban environment lacking in certain facilities as far back as 1973 when J BAINES (The Environment) wrote “The large suburban estates that are a recent feature of the townscape are epitomised by the regular rows of similarly styled houses that have earned for themselves the title of suburban deserts.  They often lack the shops, churches, public houses, and social centres that allow a community life to develop”.

From the same website I learned that the term food desert dates back at least to the 1990s:

Food deserts were defined, by the Low Income Project Team in 1996, as ‘areas of relative exclusion where people experience physical and economic barriers to accessing healthy food’.  The actual term ‘food desert’ is quoted, by S CUMMINS (British Medical Journal, 2002, Vol.325, p.436), as having been originally used by a resident of a public sector housing scheme in the west of Scotland in the early 1990s.

The media commented on the phenomenon of food deserts during the 1990s. The Independent of 11 June 1997 said food deserts were “those areas of inner cities where cheap nutritious food is virtually unobtainable. Car-less residents, unable to reach out-of-town supermarkets, depend on the corner shop where prices are high, products are processed, and fresh fruit and vegetables are poor or non-existent”. The Observer, 13 September 1998, p.11, said ‘many poor housing estates were left as food deserts by the closure of local food shops’ and that in the few local food shops left, prices were up to 60% more than in the supermarkets. The Guardian II of 17 March 1999 said that ‘on the poorer estates of Coventry, low cost, good quality, food is not available to the poorest. These people ‘either have to shop at expensive local stores or pay for transport and lug small children for miles and back with shopping’.

I also discovered that some folks are working on an interactive Food Desert web project at they define a Food Desert as “large and isolated geographic areas where mainstream grocery stores are absent or distant.” They claim:

Our research has demonstrated the statistical link between Food Deserts and worse diet-related health outcomes, after controlling for other key factors. We also developed a Food Balance Score to show the relationsihp between access to mainstream and fringe food providers (such as fast food) and correlated that to public health.

Eat locally, buy organic, and become part of the oasis, not part of the desert.  Now about dessert…



2 thoughts on “Food Deserts

  1. Interesting and thought provoking. We often think of eating local as a way to help our farmers, and around here shrimpers, stay in business but now I am thinking that it goes far beyond that. I am passing your article on! Thanks for the eye opener. (Though it will be hard to shake my love of Taco Bell.)

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