If you Google the phrase “Food Desert” you might find: a geographic area where affordable and nutritious food is difficult to obtain. Now add key terms to your search such as: low-income, urban area, limited transportation and you can get a better picture of the people that food deserts impact the most in the US.
Imagine it’s time to grocery shop for a holiday dinner. Depending on the location of your home you may need to travel more than 5-10 miles to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables for your family. This is the problem — the inner cities are largely devoid of quality grocery stores and saturated with fast food outlets. Conversely affluent areas like W. Hartford, CT have two Whole Foods within 1.8 miles of each other and a Trader Joe’s to-boot. What’s more interesting is the next closest Whole Foods is 52 miles away landing in well-to-do Milford, CT.
My point is not to assert that W. Hartford shouldn’t have these markets, it’s more to highlight a glaring disparity in nutritional resources afforded often to populations wealthy enough to live within these towns’ lines. This problem, a big problem, feels tragically like the disparity seen in k-12 education where the quality and resources in education are differentiated based on your zip code.
I think we all can agree that availability of affordable quality food is important to overall health and health outcomes and that it is essential that all populations and neighborhoods should have access to nutritious foods. How should this be addressed is the bigger issue. This may mean building better grocery stores in regions identified as food deserts. But more likely, I see local farmers working with corner grocers to increase the ratio of healthy foods to the customary processed and calorie dense packaged foods.
But there is no easy answer because a major challenge will always be community behavior. Similar to the idea that it’s not just access to health insurance, but people choosing to make use of it to get the preventative care they need that makes difference in health outcomes. If corner grocers make available better quality foods, we can’t simply conclude that our community members who have been buying cheap, poor quality foods — high in fat, sugar, and salt will seamlessly make the dietary transition to wholesome food.
Let’s continue the discussion.
Tonight, Tuesday, November 18 at 6pm, The Curtis D. Robinson Center for Health Equity is hosting its 4th Annual Town Hall on Health Disparities: “Is Food Making us Sick?”
Topics will include:
- What are some current Food Policies in Hartford?
- What diseases are caused by the foods that we eat?
- How can you promote better nutrition in your community?
- What can a member of the community do to get involved with this work
Click here to register for this important meeting.
Image courtesy of Raye Mutcherson