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The Misconception Of Food Deserts

The Misconception Of Food Deserts
Many Americans have no idea that food deserts exist, let alone that they could be one of the 23.5 million Americans that currently reside within one. If surveyed, the average American consumer would probably not be able to define what exactly a food desert is, but even worse, they have no idea that it is the foundation for so many other problems that effect Americans on a day to day basis. These issues include food stamp program controversies, food insecurity, and even health issues that arise within these alternative categories. 

There is a scarce amount of information available on this topic, and limited research/programs exist to try to correct the current problems. America as a whole does not want to admit the ugly truth behind it all; most of these issues can be solved simply by making better choices and becoming better educated. The American public deserves to be informed about these topics, because it affects such a vast amount of the population in the United States. Many programs have been proposed in various communities, but there is a very insufficient amount of them that have actually been followed through. Proposing programs simply is not enough. It is a good start, a miniscule step in the right direction, but what American citizens need is action to decrease the amount of problems that arise within food deserts.

“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 traveling distance” (“Food Deserts”). This also produces the other problem that if a certain area only has access to convenience stores vs. actual super markets, then those convenience stores are more apt to sell the non- healthy food because those companies know that they are the only route that most consumers have. 

This is part of the reason that the obesity rate in food desert areas is so high; Americans do not have access to the nutrition that they need. They substitute fruits and vegetables for sugary snacks and candies and it is causing a negative health epidemic.  A food desert is also described as “a community in which residents must travel at least a mile to buy fresh meat, dairy products, and vegetables… (Or in rural areas more than 10 miles)” (“In Depth”). This leads to an even larger issue surrounding food deserts. A majority of the population who live within food deserts have no way to transport themselves to a supermarket to buy fresh produce. Unless they find some sort of public transportation they are confined to the easily accessible convenience stores, which typically do not carry a large amount of organic, healthy food items. 

These conditions make it even more strenuous for the lower class Americans who have certain diets they have to be on or certain foods that they either cannot live without, or cannot eat at all. These conditions include Americans with diabetes, someone who is lactose intolerant, someone who needs a gluten free diet, and so many more. Living in a food desert with limited income makes it next to impossible to provide for some of the American families dealing with these health conditions. Do they acquire the foods that meet their needs, or do they provide less expensive junk food, so their families do not go hungry? Which problem do they deal with? Which disaster do they tackle first? These are difficult questions to answer, let alone having to live life that way on a daily basis. 

There are food assistance programs that attempt to aid in support for these families, but studies have shown that food stamp programs may be doing more harm, than good. “Obesity has many causes, but some experts believe that the structure of [the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] deserves some of the blame” (“Food Stamp Programs”). The overall goal of this system is valuable, attempting to alleviate some of the stress off of low income families by providing assistance in buying food. However, they pay these families once a month, all at one time. It compels them to splurge their money all at one visit to the grocery store, and try to stock up on certain items. 

These items that are being “hoarded” are the processed, inexpensive junk foods. If an American can buy a bag of chips for a dollar, versus buying a fruit or vegetable that could be double even triple the amount of chips, they are most definitely going to choose the bag of chips, even if it is unhealthy. Another question that has risen within experts attempting to research these topics are that, maybe it is not that they do not want to buy these healthy foods, or healthy ingredients to make meals, maybe the issue is that they have no idea how to cook or prepare one of these said meals. A lot of them have this misconception that the healthy food is always more compensation, which is not always the case. “The other defining characteristic of food deserts is socio-economic: that is, they are mostly found in communities of color and low income areas (where many people do not have cars)” (“Food Deserts”). Food deserts and all of the other issues revolving around food deserts are mainly issues in lower class communities.

Although it can be a problem in cities or towns that do have higher income citizens, but the conditions do not affect them because they have the money to travel and at least attempt to get nutritious foods, the poor cannot. This same article goes on to state that the wealthier districts on average  have three times as many supermarkets, opposed to the lower communities. What is worse is that white neighborhoods statistically have four times as many supermarkets than black communities do (“Food Deserts”). 

This brings about a new difficult series of questions; does race play an issue with these circumstances? Are the articles being stereotypical, or is it just statistically accurate that communities of color have a larger percent of its occupants falling below the poverty line? Who exactly has answers to these questions? As stated before these topics are often overlooked, America and its occupants have this sense of pride; they do not want to admit that there is a problem that is occurring, and many of the Americans in need of assistance, or living in these conditions, do not want to admit that they are in need of help.

This is an issue that does not affect other parts of the world dealing with these same issues, which makes the situation here more complicated, and more difficult to deal with. The food desert situations are an issue of concern for the United States right now, and will continue to be in the future. This is not something that the government can sweep under the rug, and pretend like it is not happening. This issue is current that a large number of Americans have become victims of. 

This will continue to be an issue for a number of reasons. It is not something that can be cured, or overturned in the matter of days; maybe it cannot even be completely solved in a matter of years. One thing is for sure though, if America continues to not educate its citizens about these current problems, and if it continues to do little to nothing to help the cause, the issues with food deserts and the problems that encompass it will only get worse from here. The government cannot continue to have tunnel vision, and ignore the issue. It has to be dealt with head on, and with full force. Conditions need to change, and the right choices need to be made. 

While many programs have been proposed, and not been followed through with, there has been a decent amount of small programs that have started to evolve within communities and across the United States. One of the major attempts to help this situation, and a more well-known course of action is the “Let’s Move!” campaign. “First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign, which aims to reduce childhood obesity, has taken a lead role in this effort” (“In Depth”). In order for this campaign to reduce childhood obesity in the United States, the first lady has proposed a simple solution; open more nutrition based actual supermarkets within food deserts across the country. She recently had a breakthrough when the campaign was finally able to convince Wal-Mart, Supervalu, and Walgreens to expand 1,500 grocery stores in food deserts (“In Depth”). This opens up a large amount of opportunities for families living within said food deserts. 

This is giving them the opportunity to have access to a supermarket with nutritional value behind it, instead of having to always buy from a convenience store because it is the only store that they have easy access to. While this may seem like a step in the right direction, other critics do not share the same opinion. In fact, numerous amounts of them believe that this proposal with these supermarkets will have little to no effect on the way people choose to eat, or what Americans choose to provide for their families.

First of all, it is not easy to break a habit once one has become accustomed to it, for example buying processed, inexpensive food from convenience stores, rather than nutritious options from a supermarket. Second of all, just because these people have a store that now bears nutritional value, does not mean that they can afford to buy the products that are within the supermarket.

What is even more shocking, and places more confusion within the minds of critics and researchers, is that even if these Americans could afford to buy a decent amount of food that is healthy for them; would they choose that over the processed food that they currently purchase? It is a hard question to answer because the 38 million people who rely on food assistance programs every day, roughly one in eight Americans (“Food Stamp Programs”), are all placed on these programs for a vast amount of reasons.

They are not all the same, which means that there is not one solution that has the ability to fix all of the problems. Some have goals to eventually be taken off of assistance; others could simply care less and continue to abuse the system. This is where the differentiation of food purchasing trends comes into play. Yes, it is true that many Americans on food stamps have unhealthy food habits, but that is not true for all. “The UNC study suggests using zoning laws to restrict the number of fast food restaurants in low income neighborhoods” (“In Depth”). This article also goes on to explain that Los Angeles has experimented with the proposal of this law, and the results were successful. They have now proposed that they make the zoning law official, and carry it out not just for experimentation, but to benefit the whole city.

This course of action again is excellent, studies are moving consumers in the right direction, however this law was only proposed in one city throughout the entire United States. If more states and city councils knew about this study going on in Los Angeles, it could potentially open the door to success for many other regions of the US where food deserts are an issue. This all leads back to education. To put it simply, there just are not enough people that know about these topics and what effects it is having on the population. If more of this news was broadcasted, or posted in a more popular area, then maybe United States officials dealing with these issues would start to see even more of a positive incline in the direction in which they wish to pursue. “According to Vanderkam, the once a month disbursement of food stamps should be changed to biweekly disbursement to prompt recipients to ration their benefits and make better choices of purchased foods” (“Food Stamps Programs”).

She believes that instead of giving the Americans on assistance programs just a lump sum of cash all at one time, that it should be given periodically (twice a month) in an attempt to prompt these people to make better choices and become healthier. They simply do not see that conserving their stamp compensation to buy things throughout the month, is more beneficial opposed to binging the first day that they receive them and getting no nutritional value out of it. If they actually did choose to purchase fresh fruits or vegetables or even a type of bread, those foods will spoil before that month is up, and it is unlikely that those families will be able to consume the food before it goes to waste.

Additionally, having to go out to the market twice a month instead of only once a month is going to potentially cost them more money that they may not have. Nonetheless, it is a plan to be considered. Some people that live within food deserts also use food pantries as a way to supply food for themselves and their families (“Food Stamp Programs”). Food pantries are a huge help to those struggling to make ends meet. They are copious, and almost anyone can find one just as close as they could a convenient store, they do not have to go out of their way to visit these food pantries.

Communities collect food, and distribute it out to the less fortunate. Many of the Americans struggling in these conditions find food pantries to be very beneficial and helpful in their time of need. “In addition to selling fresh and organic fruits and vegetables, bulk whole grains and beans, and soy based meat substitutes, some of these stores also offer cooking and nutrition classes to educate public about making healthy food choices” (“Food Deserts”). This is a very positive attribute to food desert communities because it provides people with information on how to stay healthy. 

It shows them how to cook and prepare food that they can actually afford to buy, so that they will not be lumped into the group of people who claim to have no choice over what they do or do not eat. All of the programs or proposals that have been mentioned are again, leading America in the right direction. 

Some of these plans of action have been very effective and others of them have not been as successful. Almost all of them would be even more successful if the American public was simply educated about the situations and procedures that currently exist. The “Let’s Move!” campaign is a very commendable program. It is setting up children for success because their primary goal is to gain control of childhood obesity and other health related diseases. This campaign has a “goal of completely eradicating food deserts by 2017” (“Food Deserts”). 

This would be such an accomplishment in America considering food deserts effect such a large group of Americans. The government has made a $400 million investment in this campaign, stating that if a supermarket is to open within a food desert, they will provide tax breaks for said stores. This encourages supermarkets to open in food deserts, and also benefiting the people by giving them a broader array of choices when it comes to healthy food.

The proposal of awarding food stamp participants biweekly instead of monthly is just that; a proposal. No studies or experiments have been conducted to see if this could be a positive gain to these residents. It is just something various critics have proposed, no real action has been taken. If this proposal was to be put on trial so to speak, it could go one of two ways. It could either crash and burn and prove that the current program is working just fine, or it could potentially be part of a breakthrough that researchers have been so desperately looking for.

As of right now the whole situation remains ineffective though, because as stated before, no one has actually put it to a test, to see what kind of results would arise from it. Food pantries, like Michelle Obama’s campaign, are another positive, real program that has come about. It is action being taken, not just activists or critics proposing something. They have been very effective in a positive way providing free food for Americans who are in need. However some problems have arose within these food pantries. One being that there is not qualification criteria that one would have to fit in order to receive help from these pantries, unlike food assistance programs.

These programs are supported by volunteers; they want it to be just as much a positive experience for everyone as does the consumers. However certain individuals will abuse the system, just like food stamps. Food pantries are meant for people who do not really have other ways to get food for themselves and family members. When someone who can provide for their family on their own, who just wants free food attends, they are taking away what other Americans need to stay healthy. It has not been a huge issue that these programs have had to deal with, but it does exist.

Offering cooking classes and nutritional lessons is also a great contribution (“Food Deserts”). It shows Americans that are on assistance how to cook and prepare nutritional meals, because previously they had no idea how to. This program however is not popular, and is not seen on a day to day basis. There are programs that exist like this, but they are not everywhere. They are also not available for everyone to know about.

They need to advertise and get support from the government and other state or city officials in order to become a larger program so that they can help several other Americans living with the same conditions day to day. It is, however, very effective to the Americans who are able to use it. The zoning laws that were used in Los Angeles also proved to be very effective through research and studies. “We have already attracted new sit down restaurants, full service grocery stores, and healthy food alternatives” (“In Depth”).

The zoning law continues to prove to be positively effective in Los Angeles through scenarios such as the ones stated in the quote. They have contemplated making the area larger as well, so more Americans can benefit from having the law.  They have also imposed a permanent zoning law because their results have been so successful. Jan Perry, city councilwoman, commented about this program and stated “Ultimately, this action is about providing choices” (“In Depth”). This is exactly what the law’s chief goal is for the American public; to create more positive choices. 

The overall goal that needs to be achieved from these studies, and all of this research, is moving America in a productive direction. The awareness needs to spread; more Americans need to know what is going on in order to support the cause. It is the only way that current efforts can continue to be successful and help American citizens. Almost every person that resides in the United States knows, or has heard of someone or a group of people suffering from conditions that go along with food deserts.

It could be a mother, father, brother, sister, cousin, niece, nephew, friend, or ANYONE. Chances are that at some point in one’s life; they will come in contact, or at least know of someone dealing with these problems. These conditions not only affect loved ones, or people in passing; they affect several people involved with the individuals that are suffering. The solution is simple; become aware, and make better choices. If everyone in the American public lived by this, there would be a lot less problems. Do not be one the numerous Americans who are clueless about the harsh conditions that surround them. Americans need to get educated, learn the consequences, and start working as a whole towards a better tomorrow. 

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