Since the beginning of my college education, I have learned about food deserts in several of my classes so I decided to do more research on this topic for my blog post. What I didn’t realize is how deeply food deserts are intertwined with the history of systematic racism in this country.
Food deserts are generally defined as places where residents don’t have access to affordable nutritious foods. Lower income areas are typically the hit the hardest with food deserts. It can lead to an increase in diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other diet-related conditions.
Food deserts have a deep connection to race and racist actions such as redlining. Redlining is a discriminatory practice developed in the 1930s U.S., where banks denied mortgages to people of color, usually in urban areas, thus preventing them from buying homes in certain neighborhoods. Although this practice is illegal, large supermarkets were still allowed to not open stores in these inner city and lower income areas. They creates issues because large supermarkets typically are able to sell healthy foods at lower prices because they can purchase in bulk. In 2012, the USDA found that in all but very dense urban areas, the higher the percentage of minority population, the more likely the area is to be a food desert.
Not only this, but food deserts may be under-reported because the North American Industry Classification System places small corner grocery stores (which often primarily sell packaged food) in the same category as grocery stores like Safeway and Whole Foods. However, just providing more supermarkets will not fix inequality by itself since food inequality goes beyond location, according to experts, and extends to bigger structural inequalities around income, education, nutritional knowledge and, importantly, race. There needs to be considerations made about the culture of the community, how people will access a place without a car, the quality of the food, and education about how to buy nutritious food.