A Tale of Two Supermarkets

Though solving the issue of food deserts requires systemic change, there are things an average person can do to help improve this issue, such as trying to reduce individual food waste and donating to charities that aim to decrease food insecurity.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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By Rachel Chuong

Take a look at a neighborhood where the median household income is less than $100 thousand. Do you see any Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods stores? The answer is likely no. Instead, these neighborhoods tend to have smaller convenience stores or fast food restaurants that provide residents with more affordable junk food. Healthier food options are often inaccessible to many people because they are more expensive. These places are known as food deserts, where residents’ access to healthy, affordable food options is limited. In comparison, higher-income neighborhoods have greater access to grocery stores and organic foods.

Food deserts are the result of systemic racism in the form of redlining. Redlining is a practice developed in the 1930s, when banks would deny mortgages to people of color to prevent them from buying homes in certain neighborhoods. Banks would use red ink to mark areas they deemed hazardous and less desirable, hence the name “redlining.” Food deserts are also the result of the White Flight, when white, middle-class people moved from inner cities to the suburbs in the 1960s. This shift put minority communities at a disadvantage as the areas they lived in were drained of wealth and ended up with a lack of resources and little funding.

Food deserts are also predominantly located where many Black and Latino communities reside. They tend to have the fewest number of supermarkets, and thus the least access to healthy food options. Redlining and the White Flight targeted these areas particularly and left them with communities poorer than mainly white communities. This consequence led to an inability to afford healthier food options.

A lack of access to healthy and affordable food is detrimental to people’s health. The lack of healthy food leads to higher chances of getting diet-related diseases, such as obesity and diabetes, that could potentially become life-threatening. Obesity is associated with a higher risk for heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. Similarly, diabetes leads to an increased risk for heart disease, nerve damage, and stroke. In California, obesity and diabetes rates are 20 percent higher for those living in lower income areas.

Though fully solving this issue, which stems from racial and economic inequality, requires systemic change, there are a few things a person can do to help alleviate this issue. One is donating to charities that help build more grocery stores and provide people with food. Philanthropy and charities support food banks, feeding kitchens, and nonprofit restaurants. Though this action is not a long-term solution, it increases accessibility; donating to charities that seek to increase food accessibility helps mitigate this issue. Charities and organizations, such as SÜPRMARKT and the Mandela Grocery create affordable grocery stores stocked with healthy food options. Building affordable grocery stores in lower income areas provides residents with better alternatives to purchasing junk food.

Additionally, reducing food waste can help mitigate this issue. Millions of pounds of extra food are wasted and thrown out every year while millions of people are living in areas lacking affordable and accessible foods. In fact, Americans waste 30 to 40 percent of their food every year. One person wastes about one pound of food every day, which adds up to approximately 225-290 pounds of food every year. This excess food can instead be used to feed those living in food deserts. Food banks, such as Feeding America, help collect the excess food and deliver it to food banks to distribute to those in food-insecure areas.

Many people may feel helpless when it comes to the issue of food deserts and food insecurity. This view is understandable as creating systemic change in any issue is hard to achieve. However, one can help by reducing one’s food waste and donating to organizations and charities that aim to decrease food insecurity. We should all be trying our best to solve the problem of food deserts.