Archive for the ‘food access’ tag
“Yes, there’s a difference in the stores in our area compared to the stores in (higher-income) Montclair or somewhere else. You know, the vegetables are great up there, everything is so beautiful. And you come down here, and I think we get ours last off the truck.”
That is how one Oakland resident describes the state of healthy food access in their community — one of more than 180 voices that helped create Healthy Food For All: Building Equitable and Sustainable Food Systems in Detroit and Oakland, a new report by PolicyLink, the C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems at Michigan State University, and the Fair Food Network.
One of the worst symptoms of this broken system is the grocery gap in low-income communities of color: Twenty-six million urban residents live in low-income neighborhoods where there is no supermarket within walking distance.
The report not only highlights residents’ struggles, it also lifts up the successes we’ve seen driven by residents, advocates, and community groups. Promising strategies showcased in the report include:
* Developing or attracting new neighborhood grocery stores
* Expanding local food production through urban farms and community gardens
* Enabling the use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits at farmers’ markets
* Establishing food policy councils
* Linking low-income residents to jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities in food businesses
The movement for equitable access to healthy food is gaining strength every day. Read the report for more ideas on how to ensure better access for all communities.
As I looked around the White House Office of Urban Affairs listening tour meeting at a packed Philadelphia warehouse space and saw low-income residents and local leaders mingling with some of our nation’s most powerful people (including two cabinet secretaries!), I thought back on where the fight for equitable access to healthy food started for me.
It was 1979 and I was recently out of UC-Berkeley Law School and working for the public-interest law firm Public Advocates when a group of residents of a low-income, African-American neighborhood in San Francisco approached me to see if I could help stop their community’s one and only supermarket from leaving. In my hometown of St. Louis, I had seen first-hand the neglect and despair that festered after supermarkets left poor communities there.
No one had ever tried before to find a legal theory that would provide communities access to healthy food, so we were on uncharted legal ground. Using interviews with more than 150 residents of local communities threatened by a lack of food access, we eventually filed an administrative petition with then-Gov. Jerry Brown seeking redress to the problem of the exodus of supermarkets from low-income communities. The Governor was remarkably responsive: appointing a commission that held hearings throughout the state.
Because of the determination of those residents, California began a slow move toward improving healthy food access for millions of our neighbors; the petition sparked farmers’ markets, cooperative buying clubs, a few cooperative markets-but, unfortunately, not one supermarket.
In the years since, equitable food access has been mostly relegated to a local issue, with fights cropping up sporadically in neighborhoods as local supermarkets threaten to leave. We had seen some successes - like San Diego’s Market Creek Plaza or the Pathmark in Harlem - but the victories had been hard to come by.
That is, until about five years ago, when Pennsylvania’s Gov. Ed Rendell and State Rep. Dwight Evans began to listen to the ideas and innovation of their constituents and the leadership of The Food Trust and The Reinvestment Fund. Out of that collaboration came the Fresh Food Financing Initiative, a remarkable program that has helped open dozens of markets and seed more than 3,700 jobs in under-served communities.
Now, through the tireless efforts of residents and advocates, the White House Office of Urban Affairs has shown real interest in learning about this proven program, hopefully to take the ideas and solutions to the national scale. White House leaders want to lift up the program and hear how it is impacting real people. For the first time, I can see the fight for equitable food access is winnable.
I cannot stress enough how important and exciting it is to have a White House willing to listen to new and innovative ideas. This administration - in virtually every office and agency - seems to recognize that all Americans deserve to live in a community of opportunity.
But that does not mean progress will happen on its own. Far from it. The most important attribute the equity movement has going for it is our tenacity. Thirty years ago, when those residents came into my office to ask for help in improving their community, I knew it would be a long, hard fight. But sitting in Philadelphia this week, I felt emboldened to keep fighting, to keep pushing, because success is always within our grasp.
We must demand equity now.
Like many people working in the trenches to combat the scourge of “food deserts” in America, I was excited to hear the USDA was releasing a new study about the problem. With the overwhelming scientific evidence showing a lack of access to healthy food is a detriment to our health, the spotlight from the USDA was quite welcome.
While the USDA should be commended for looking at the food desert issue, it seemed to miss the boat on the depth, breadth, and consequences of the problem.
By the report’s own admission, 23.5 million Americans live in low-income communities without a grocery store within walking distance. That’s about one in every 13 people. That doesn’t seem to jibe with the study’s first finding that “access to a supermarket or large grocery store is a problem for a small percentage of households.”
But more odd is the study’s relative dismissal of the benefits of healthy eating and the real fallout from living in a community with little or no access to fresh food. There has been significant scientific research showing the vital role fresh food consumption and access play in our health:
- A 2002 study in the American Journal of Public Health found fruit and vegetable consumption among African Americans rose 32 percent with each additional local food store.
- A 2006 study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found lowest rates of obesity (21 percent) among people living in neighborhoods with supermarkets or grocery stores and the highest rates of obesity (32-40 percent) among people living in places with no supermarkets and access to only smaller grocery stores and convenience stores.
- A 2007 national study of more than 70,000 teens found that increased availability of chain supermarkets was associated with lower rates of being overweight
- A March 2009 study in Indianapolis showed adding a new grocery store to a neighborhood translated into a 3 pound weight decrease for residents.
This a public health issue, plain and simple. As we demonstrated in the 2008 report, Designed for Disease: The Link Between Local Food Environments and Obesity and Diabetes, people living in neighborhoods crowded with fast-food and convenience stores but relatively few grocery or produce outlets have a significantly higher prevalence of obesity and diabetes.
In Ezra Klein’s blog post for the Washington Post today, he says that food deserts aren’t the problem. “The problem, it seems, is the opposite: food swamps. Areas dense with fast food and convenience stores,” he writes.
But this is not an either-or proposition. Designed for Disease showed clearly that a dramatically unbalanced food environment is a direct health risk. Having no food choices at all is just as problematic as having a glut of bad food choices.
Photo used under a Creative Common License from Flickr user Spine (aka Rick)