Imagine for a moment living your entire life without being able to shop at a grocery store. You’re forced to go without fresh fruits or vegetables, and even have no access to the basic ingredients required for a healthy home-cooked meal. All of your meals would be resorting to fast food or processed junk food that you purchased at the corner store with SNAP (food stamp benefits). That dismal scenario is reality for the 11 million impoverished Americans living in food deserts.
What exactly is a food desert?
Simply put, food deserts are areas without grocery stores. The USDA defines food deserts as parts of the country void of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This lack of access is only worsened by a lack of transportation. Most families in food deserts also live without a car. That means they rely on public transportation for their work commute and they typically walk to stores nearest their home for food.
Why are there no grocery stores?
Grocery stores, like many other businesses, study the demographics of an area before deciding where to open a store. Unfortunately, impoverished areas in America don’t meet the intended demographic criteria for grocery stores to invest in building a location there. As a result, residents of these neglected neighborhoods only have access to small community stores that typically specialize in selling alcohol and junk food.
What can be done to fix this problem?
There are hundreds of food deserts in America and the solution for each may vary based on how the local community chooses to respond. The first step is to meet the immediate need by creating access to healthy meals now. That approach should also be combined with creating a collaboration between local government and businesses that believe we should tackle the problem. There are now tax incentives available in most food deserts for businesses willing to open and provide healthy food options in those communities.
Perhaps the biggest thing you can do is create awareness. Many Americans don’t know what food deserts are, even as millions of our neighbors suffer without food. Want to do more? Organize your community or business to make a local impact by hosting a Hunger Project to help provide meals and impact a food desert near you.