When you hear the word desert, what do you think of? Most likely you imagine an endless sea of sand and barely any vegetation. A barren landscape that you don’t want to live in, but just travel through. However, the term desert can have a very different meaning. For millions of people in the USA and around the world, they are living every day in a desert––a food desert.
What exactly is a food desert?
Food deserts are geographic areas where access to affordable, healthy food options (especially fresh fruits and vegetables) is limited or nonexistent due to the absence of grocery stores within convenient traveling distance. In urban areas, access to public transportation may help residents overcome the difficulties posed by distance. In recent years, economic forces have driven grocery stores out of many cities. With a limited number of stores, an individual’s food shopping trip may require taking several buses or trains. In rural areas, public transportation is either very limited or unavailable, with supermarkets often many miles away from people’s homes.
It is most common to find food deserts in low-income areas. There is a little choice on what food is available. What can be found? An abundance of fast food chains selling unhealthy food high in fat, sugar and salt, while offering little nutritional value. Corner stores, convenience stores, and liquor stores which mostly provide processed snacks with a long shelf-life and next to no nutrition. Many areas are overlooked as food deserts by the US government as corners stores and liquor stores selling snack-like food are categorized together statistically with supermarket chains (e.g. Safeway, Whole Foods, Kroger).
While it is easier on the budget to consume these inexpensive but unhealthy snack-food items, there are long-term consequences of reduced access to healthy food. Studies show that a lack of healthy food is one of the main reasons that ethnic minority and low-income populations suffer from statistically higher rates of obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and other diet-related conditions than the general population
How do we solve the problem?
It is very easy to get discouraged when you just look at statistics. The minute you see any number with the word “million” after it, you tend to feel overwhelmed. How can we possibly make a difference?
Instead of focusing on the negative, we need to remember another set of statistics––the huge amount of caring volunteers and organizations who are already fighting back. Think of all the soup kitchens, food pantries, and food banks providing groceries and meals. There are so many churches and charities, such as Feeding America, that are in involved by lobbying and organizing volunteers to distribute food to the people who need it most.
What we find the most encouraging at One World Center are the farming initiatives that are taking root across the country. More and more people are starting to grow their own food. Yet another positive from the negative situation of the COVID-19 Pandemic. In fact, this seems to be a traditional habit in the US in times of crises dating back to World War II and the Federal Government’s promotion of victory gardens. Across the country, you will find community and urban gardens popping up. Not only do these projects provide food, they teach skills which can be replicated at home and inspire people to come together and create positive change.
As for us, One World Center has added a new program and workshops to help the garden farming movement grow. For many years, we have sent volunteers to Africa and Brazil where they have worked on agricultural projects and started school/community gardens. We hope to bring that knowledge to our local communities here in the US and inspire a new era of self-sufficiency to help end food deserts.