Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Wendell & The Food Desert

I have lost faith in most high profile people. Most do not seem to be concerned with much more than their careers. Very few feel a sense of responsibility to give back to or support the very same communities which have long offered unwavering support to them.
But there are some who heed the call, and fully deserve to be called "stars" because they shine in their deeds, words, and efforts.

Wendell Pierce, who is best known for his roles on "Treme", "The Wire", and "Waiting To Exhale", (Which is one of my personal favorites), has launched Sterling Farms, a chain of grocery and convenience stores in the food deserts of his hometown of New Orleans. In addition to the stores offering fresh and healthy food, they also offer rides home if you spend more than $50.

"The most important thing to me is creating a relationship with the community, creating an economic engine as an opportunity for them just to have access to a decent grocery store," Pierce says.

This is not only inspiring, but it is the sort of activism that addresses real issues, and provides resources that enables progress and growth in disadvantaged communities.

Food deserts can be described as geographic areas where residents’ access to affordable, healthy food options (especially fresh fruits and vegetables) is restricted or nonexistent due to the absence of grocery stores within convenient travelling distance. For instance, according to a report prepared for Congress by the Economic Research Service of the US Department of Agriculture, about 2.3 million people (or 2.2 percent of all US households) live more than one mile away from a supermarket and do not own a car.

In urban areas, access to public transportation may help residents overcome the difficulties posed by distance, but economic forces have driven grocery stores out of many cities in recent years, making them so few and far between that an individual’s food shopping trip may require taking several buses or trains. In suburban and rural areas, public transportation is either very limited or unavailable, with supermarkets often many miles away from people’s homes.

The other defining characteristic of food deserts is socio-economic, that is, they are most commonly found in communities of color and low-income areas (where many people don't have cars). Studies have found that wealthy districts have three times as many supermarkets as poor ones do, that white neighborhoods contain an average of four times as many supermarkets as predominantly black ones do, and that grocery stores in African-American communities are usually smaller with less selection.

People’s choices about what to eat are severely limited by the options available to them and what they can afford—and many food deserts contain an overabundance of fast food chains selling cheap “meat” and dairy-based foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt. Processed foods (such as snack cakes, chips and soda) typically sold by corner delis, convenience stores and liquor stores are usually just as unhealthy.

Those living in food deserts may also find it difficult to locate foods that are culturally appropriate for them, and dietary restrictions, such as lactose intolerance, gluten allergies, etc., also limit the food choices of those who do not have access to larger chain stores that have more selection. Additionally, studies have found that urban residents who purchase groceries at small neighborhood stores pay between 3 and 37 percent more than suburbanites buying the same products at supermarkets.

Healthier foods are generally more expensive than unhealthful foods, particularly in food deserts. For instance, while the overall price of fruits and vegetables in the US increased by nearly 75 percent between 1989 and 2005, the price of fatty foods dropped by more than 26 percent during the same period. While such inflation has strained the food budgets of many families regardless of their financial status, the higher cost of healthy foods often puts them entirely beyond the monetary means of many lower-income people.

A nation is only as strong as its individuals, and, despite what the conservative media would have you believe America is still the land of plenty. The fact that there are some people in this country who do not have access to healthy food options is egregious, and uncontainable. While many concern themselves with the plight of those who lack nutrition in other countries, we must always be conscious of the fact that some of our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and fellow Americans are also suffering. I am always amazed by the fact that people forget that charity begins at home.


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