I’ve been besieged with emails about the NYT’s cover piece yesterday on food deserts, so here are a couple quick thoughts:
(1) Food deserts have always been a crude measure
Keep in mind that this is a fairly new area of public policy. I’ve long though that food deserts are a crude measure at best; that the imbalance between healthy food and junk food in neighborhoods is important; and that using supermarkets as the only measure of access to healthy food is problematic. (Sorry, no links here, though I do talk about this in my book.)
So it’s good to complicate our thinking on this. Access has never been the only problem when it comes to changing the way we eat. That said, it is certainly part of the problem and needs to be addressed head on. These studies don’t suggest that healthy food options are not important, just that they are not a silver bullet solution. (which nobody has ever said they were in the first place).
(2) Who walks 2 miles to get groceries?
I have a sneaking suspicion that study author Roland Strum hasn’t spent much time with urban working families. How else can you explain this inane assessment:
Within a couple of miles of almost any urban neighborhood, “you can get basically any type of food,” said Roland Sturm of the RAND Corporation, lead author of one of the studies. “Maybe we should call it a food swamp rather than a desert,” he said.
Seriously?Mr. Strum, do you walk from Clinton Hill, Brooklyn to the Brooklyn BRidge to pick up your groceries? Or take multiple train lines and buses? In Detroit, a car-based city if ever there was one, ONE FIFTH Of the adults do not have a car.
Are we serious in thinking that, if someone isn’t willing to walk two miles with a week’s worth of groceries, that means they don’t care about their diet and health?
That said,yes the food desert concept needs rfining. See bullet-point number one.
(3) Healthy food is like water
Do you think poor people should only have dirty water? That they should pay for cleaner water if they want to drink it?That you’d better be willing to walk two or three miles to get potable water out of a tap?
I like to think not. And yet that’s how we think about healthy food: That it’s something you get if you pay for it, but have no right to. And today we pay the price for that in terms of health and well being — and lack thereof.
It should be as easy to eat well as it is to eat junk, and until we make that possible I think we will lose this battle.
That’s all I’ve got for now. Deadlines, book tour and personal finances are taking precedence for now.