What I find most interesting about Target’s expansion as a grocer is that its produce offerings (not unlike Walmart’s) tend to be slim and of not-the-best-quality-ever. I’m completely comfortable with people making use of canned and frozen produce, but there’s something about shifting our food supply away from things-we-can-eat-as-they-are and toward things-someone-else-makes-and-sells-us that makes me incredibly uneasy.
I don’t have much to add to the thoughtful comments from this (now-a-month-old) post, but love the data visualization. What I would love to see someone do is a price/quality comparison between different stores, really get a handle on how much better (or not) nutrition and cost are based on geography. As I’ve mentioned before, supermarkets are a very crude metric for measuring food access.
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.
Have you TRIED grocery shopping in a low-income neighborhood? @NextAmCity does @NYTimes one better on food deserts p://ow.ly/aoudK19 Apr
As prep for a forthcoming review I have of Mary Mazzio’s lovely documentary on New York City’s Green Carts, The Apple Pushers, I’m finding I need a one-stop link to studies that complicate our understanding of food access.
- The Institute of Medicine held a symposium on the topic in 2009. Most notably, they found that the only direct nutritional link to obesity was overconsumption of sweetened beverages, aka soda; limited access to fresh food was not direclty correlated with obesity.
- A 2006 report from Mari Gallagher consulting group, analyzing food access and health outcomes in Chicago, suggested that food balance—i..e not overwhelming healhty food options with unhealthy ones—is as, or more, important than food access.
- A 2009 USDA report found that easy access to all kinds of food, rather than limited access to healthy foods, was more closely related to rises in obesity.
There’s also the recent survey of 1,500 low-income families by advocacy and service group Cooking Matters, which found that:
most low-income families are satisfied with the availability of good food…The greater obstacles to healthy meals are planning skills, time and, yes, price.