Digging into life's garden with Madison:
Food deserts are defined by the USDA (US Department of Agriculture) as geographic areas in which residents have limited to no access to fresh fruit, vegetables, or other healthy foods. These areas are typically impoverished and lack farmer’s markets and grocery stores with fresh, affordable produce. About 23.5 million people in the US live in food deserts. (3) The largest three are located in New Orleans, Chicago, and Atlanta.(2)
Food deserts are primarily found in low income areas in which the majority of people do not own cars. This means people rely on public transportation to get to supermarkets which can require several long trips. A NY Times study shows that wealthy districts can have up to three times more supermarkets as poorer ones. The NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) found that small corner stores and larger grocery stores are statistically grouped together, meaning if a community had two corner stores and no large chain grocery store they would still be counted as having two retail food outlets despite its limited stock. (1)
There are growing health concerns for people who live in food deserts due to their dependence on the low prices of local stop and shop markets. These markets and small convenience stores offer primarily processed foods such as snacks, chips, cake, and sodas. Fresh fruits are usually sold individually with no price marked allowing store owners to change the cost based upon the customer. Buying food from these small stores also makes it difficult for many to find culturally appropriate foods that work around many dietary restrictions or allergies. For quick, easy meals these areas are filled with fast food chains, around a 2.5x higher exposure than those living in wealthy areas, only providing meals with processed meats high in fat, sugar, and salt. Between 1985 and 2005, the price of fruits and vegetables increased by 75% while the price of fatty foods dropped by over 26%. (1) Although eating cheaper food saves low income families money now, in the long term the lack of nutritious food leads to expensive health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
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