Food Deserts and Ways You Can Support Your Community 

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What is a Food Desert? 

Food Deserts are geographical regions where communities have “poor” access to healthy and affordable foods such as fruits and vegetables (Arunarasu & Grzybowicz, 2020). It also examines how structures such as grocery stores, supermarkets, and other convenience stores are too far or non-existent where people reside in these areas. This increases the challenge of gaining access to food (Food Deserts, n.d). Another factor examined when looking at food deserts is the influence of socioeconomic factors on people’s access to food. Food deserts are commonly identified in low socioeconomic regions where people cannot access cars or public transportation to purchase food (Skok, 2021). Researchers discovered that people in high socioeconomic regions have about three times more access to supermarkets than those in low socioeconomic regions (Arunarasu & Grzybowicz, 2020). Therefore, individuals’ choices on what they eat in purchasing food and beverages greatly depend on where they are and what they can afford. 

Furthermore, access to affordable and healthy food is important because it is not always available. Fresh fruit and vegetables are generally more expensive and difficult to find in food deserts, which are disproportionately located in lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color (Arunarasu & Grzybowicz, 2020). Food deserts force communities to travel long distances to obtain, most of the time, food that is more expensive. This creates many challenges because people may not have the time, resources, or money to travel and buy food. Due to this, grocery stores and other places that supply food to people (convenience stores) do not build or “pull” their stores from the region, which only makes the issue more complex and the problem worse (Food Deserts, n.d). These areas now have a surplus of fast food chains where the food is cheap and unhealthy, ultimately leading to poor health conditions for the people living there because no other options are available (Skok, 2021). 

The relationship between food deserts and climate change: 

As climate change continues to increase in severity, the rate and scale of food deserts will only increase and worsen. Meaning that people will be left with little access to “healthy food” and will be left with options that are unhealthy (fast food) (Skok, 2021). Communities residing in low socioeconomic regions will not only suffer from food deserts, but also be under the impacts of climate change (Arunarasu & Grzybowicz , 2020). For example, heat waves persist and increase in intensity in extreme weather events. As a result of food deserts and climate effects, people and communities in low-socioeconomic situations will be subjected to these impacts and, therefore, other environmental impacts (Skok, 2021). 

Call to action on how you can support people living in food deserts adapted from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 

  1. Start an urban farm: This will provide food to people in the area and get local people involved in learning about farming and fresh fruit and vegetables. 
  2. Advocate: If you or someone you know is being affected by food deserts, go to your local member of government (governor, mayor, etc.) and advocate for people and yourself in food deserts 
  3. Reach out to and partner with a farmers market, another sustainable way to increase access to food and healthy food! 

“We have food deserts in our cities. We know that the distance you live from a fresh produce supplier is one of the best predictors of your health. And in the inner city, people don’t have grocery stores. So we have to figure out a way of getting supermarkets and farmers markets into the inner cities.”- Michael Pollan

References 

Arunarasu , S., & Grzybowicz , P. (2020). Exploring food deserts and environmental impacts on health in Chicago https://pdxscholar.library.pdx.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1000&context=altreu_projects

Food deserts*. Food Empowerment Project. (n.d.). https://foodispower.org/access-health/food-deserts/

Skok, P. (2021, November 5). Our hungry planet: Climate change and food security. Climate Review. https://www.theclimatechangereview.com/post/our-hungry-planet-climate-change-and-food-security

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