Food deserts are all over the US, in urban and rural areas, sometimes in places that ironically used to grow food, and usually in low-income communities. Sure there’s stuff to eat, but it’s probably not food you should be eating regularly (plenty of calories, few nutrients). Fast food signs dot the landscape, but you can drive for miles without seeing a healthy place to eat. There are few supermarkets and a lot of land in between them. Residents buy food and drinks from local markets selling unhealthy stuff with an unnaturally long shelf life. Junk food ads surround you. As a result, folks are overfed but undernourished, prone to overweight, obesity, diabetes and chronic illnesses.
”Food desert” is a term that describes geographic areas where mainstream grocery stores are either totally absent or inaccessible to low-income shoppers. Though these may be located in the vicinity, they remain unavailable to low-income residents because of high prices and inadequate public transit. While the phenomenon is typically associated with large, urban communities, it can also occur in rural neighborhoods. Some doubt that residents of any U.S. communities are truly unable to find food. But the harsh reality is that inequitable conditions isolate the poor and segregate our neighborhoods by race. The same neighborhoods that suffer from inferior schools and crowded, substandard housing also lack parks and transit.
Food deserts do more than just inconvenience low-income shoppers. Significant negative health impacts result from a lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables, diary products, meat and fish. Foremost among them is obesity, which is linked to an array of serious illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Moreover, while healthy food is hard to obtain in food deserts, these areas are routinely saturated with fast food restaurants and convenience stores specializing in junk food. The combination is proving to have lethal, long-term consequences.