You're what you eat (Blog 7)

“We can’t tell people to buy fresh food if there is no place to buy it.” –Michelle Obama


Last semester I took a course about food injustice and insecurity, and I learned about the politics, policies, and management of our food supply.  Before taking this course I was utterly unaware of the term “food deserts.”  I am now a staunch believer that your geographic location determines access and availability to nutritious food.   Food deserts exists everywhere, from urban to rural areas of the United States.  There are even some deserts nearby Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.  Many food deserts form in economically impoverished areas after the collapse of an industry.

The video I watched from the PBS News Hour documents one food desert in the Mississippi delta region.  The news anchor preempted the segment describing the connections between obesity and geography.   Obese people suffer from malnutrition.  While they may be receiving caloric food, they are not ingesting the right kinds of food that enable the body to properly function and thrive.

In a food desert like the one described in the video, finding a place to buy fresh food is like “finding a needle in a haystack.”   The citizens of the town lack access to grocery stores, for the municipality provides no transportation to the nearest grocery store 3 miles away.  Additionally, many people have no cars.  Furthermore, the town lacks nutritious food availability.  When the reporter was in town the only place to get food was at a convenience store, McDonald’s, or a gas station.

In this town, farmers use the rich soil areas to grow commodity crops that are shipped out of the area.  The everyday person forgets how to farm, however; grassroots efforts are initiating change by starting community gardens and teaching the kids of today where their food comes from and how to grow it.

From this news clip and my previous course I learned that eating healthfully is expensive, time-consuming, and something I oftentimes take for granted.  Your geographic location should not determine whether you can or cannot attain healthy food to fuel a healthy life.   I attribute much of my health to my access and availability of healthy food and great healthcare.   Michelle Obama’s efforts to eliminate food deserts in the United States take strides in the right direction to provide citizens with what they need to live a prosperous life.

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8 thoughts on ““We can’t tell people to buy fresh food if there is no place to buy it.” –Michelle Obama

  1. I also learned about food deserts in one of my courses a previous year. I honestly have never thought of it prior to that course. Food deserts are truly a problem that many people do not realize and it is possible to change this without that many resources.

  2. Just over fall break, I was driving through a road on the Poconos and was shocked at how little options for food I saw. I passed by tons of houses, but it wasn’t for a few miles that I saw my first option to purchase food. You guessed it–McDonald’s. It really is no wonder why obesity is a problem in our country. It is perpetuated by the locations of grocery chains, which would obviously want to be situated in higher income areas where more profit can be made.

  3. I never thought about or heard of food deserts prior to these blogs, but after researching more, I find it quite sad. It’s terribly sad to not have any food available, but its also sad to not have access to healthy food. Knowing how many problems are caused from obesity and consumption of unhealthy food, you’d think someone would try and change something and rid of these food deserts.

  4. I am also taking a class that discusses these issues and I am very glad Bucknell offers courses that really dive into these issues because it seems like majority of students here really are unaware of food insecurity issues right here in the U.S.

  5. Food deserts are a terrible and self-propagating thing. A family lives on a poor diet gleaned from convenience stores. The kids are statistically far more likely to be obese, have diabetes, and experience difficulties in school. They then don’t learn how to grow or prepare meals from fresh foods, and the cycle restarts.
    Interestingly, this is not a new phenomenon, although the scale of it is. The diets of the urban poor have never been good (see London in 1500-1800’s; or Chicago in “The Jungle”). Unfortunately, it’s not enough to make vegetables available in the desert – you need to couple it with copious amounts of education as well.

  6. Last semester I took a class on urban planning that discussed food deserts. It sounds like this is a very common subject being discussed at Bucknell, as many other comments mentioned their classes discussing the subject. The first step to find a solution to this issue is increased awareness. When you spend most of your time in a well populated area (even Lewisburg is relatively well populated, although you’ll catch many students mentioning they go to school in the “middle of nowhere”) it can be very easy to forget that food deserts exist and are a major threat to the health of the nation. One issue in awareness is the name doesn’t immediately tell someone what a “Food desert” is. My professor kept mentioning “we’re going to have a speaker on food deserts soon”, but I really had no idea what that meant. My best guess was that it would be about populated areas with infertile soil. However, this is clearly wrong.
    An interesting solution to the food desert issue was proposed when the speaker did finally come to our class. He told us about how there is a plan to build a store in Dorchester, Massachusetts called “The daily table” [1]. It will sell recently expired produce at greatly reduced prices. The issue with the lack of fresh food supplied to certain populations of the nation is not an issue of too little food being produced, as about 40% of food produced in the United States actually just gets thrown out. The problem stems from unaffordable prices and wasted products. The daily table project actually addresses both these issues. There is certainly some concern that selling recently expired will be socially acceptable. However, the FDA will surely regulate these stores pretty tightly. I would be surprised though if an affordable salad made from two day old lettuce, tomatoes and onions will be worse to America’s health than a “Big Mac”.

    [1] Staff, NPR. “Trader Joe’s Ex-President To Turn Expired Food Into Cheap Meals.” The Salt: What’s on Your Plate. NPR, n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2013. .

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