In many urban neighborhoods in the United States, supermarket shortages make it difficult for residents of these areas to buy affordable, healthy food. This lack can contribute to a host of health problems, including obesity and diabetes, as people tend to depend on fast food outlets, corner convenience stores, and bodegas for a majority of their meals. If these local venues do sell fresh produce, it's often at a premium, keeping it out of reach of those without extra funds to splurge.
New York City is a metropolis known for its thousands of gourmet restaurants and eclectic, high-end markets. For many local residents, however, eating a meal from these establishments may well be a mirage. Areas called "food deserts" dot all five boroughs, with areas of highest poverty in the Bronx having the fewest number of grocery stores per resident city-wide. To get fairly priced, high-quality food, people must often travel great distances. In NYC, this can easily entail navigating multiple subways and bus lines and walking many blocks while carrying perishables and heavy liquids. (Imagine a grocery store trip that takes hours and is both physically and mentally exhausting.)
To bring more food-access parity to the Big Apple, local groups and city politicians are looking at the complex relationship between factors which keeps grocery stores out of so many's reach. This 2005 Gotham Gazette story explains this situation and possible solutions well. The New York City Coalition Against Hunger website is an online source representing more than “1,200 food programs” which help an estimated 1.4 million hungry New Yorkers. While the issue is complex, many are focusing their attention on it. Awareness about this aspect of hunger seems to be spreading.
Lack of food access is not just a New York City issue. If you look closely enough at any of the U.S.'s urban and rural areas — the places most difficult for grocery stores to exist, for a variety of reasons — you will find food deserts. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service has put its “Food Desert Locator” online. It allows viewers to “get a spatial overview of low-income neighborhoods with high concentrations of people who are far from a grocery store” based on U.S. census data.
Today is Blog Action Day, and this year's focus is on food. As a result of participating, I have not only learned more about food deserts, but also found Civil Eats, a well-written blog, with over 100 contributors, about food issues; The Food Trust, a community-based organization in Philadelphia which promotes farmers' markets throughout the city (and much more); and Just Food, another NYC-based food justice initiative which pairs area farmers and their produce to those who most need them.
Thanks to all at BAD2011 who have again brought worldwide attention, through organizing a network of bloggers, to an issue affecting us all.