Food Deserts – An Insider Perspective

Torey D. lives in a Michigan city where fresh food is hard to find. The following is an excerpt from her writing, “Food Deserts: The Cement Version.”

Instead of going to my house to eat at home, my friend Hannah and I went to Quick Burger, one of the many fast food places near our school. We knew it was an unhealthy choice. Fast food is as addictive as anything else; the grease and salty flavors make you want more and more to satisfy your craving.

“Good afternoon, welcome to Quick Burger, can I take your order?”

“A number four please,” I answer.

A number four is a meal of two cheeseburgers, a medium fry, and medium drink. As Hannah and I finished our shared meal we saw the nutrition label, clear as day on the side of the fry container. Just one medium fry was 380 calories. The decision to eat out rather than to go home was because there is relatively no “healthy” “affordable” place to eat out in our city. Although this only happens on certain occasions for us, many people, and the citizens of our city specifically, are faced with this every day.

Eating in fast food establishments cannot be validated as cost-effective. For example, one juicy apple versus a greasy Quick Burger only differs by a few pennies. During my recent trip to a large grocery store far from my city, an apple cost $1.39, with the added benefits of calcium and potassium. The Quick Burger is $1.00 with the benefit of revealing its low protein content and unhealthy amount of sodium (920 mg) plus tax. The apple is more expensive for a reason; it is fresh, and since it is out of season, it cost more. Regardless, in a Food Desert there isn’t even a choice to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) refers to Food Deserts as areas that lack nutritious food or have none available to people. “Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants” (USDA). These Deserts disproportionally affect suburbs and low-income residents; meaning the lack of nutrition is widespread. This epidemic is affecting children, making them unhealthy and more obese. The impact on the larger population is extremely serious. Michigan has a 29.4 percent obesity level. These people have higher risks for hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.

According to the USDA, 23.5 million people live in Food Deserts. More than half of those people (13.5 million) are low-income families. The lack of mobility and struggle to afford a vehicle or bus fare to distant fresh produce stores is causing health risks among this already marginalized population.

There are some solutions in place today to stop the obesity rate from rising, particularly among children and adolescent teens. The first lady, Michelle Obama, has been tackling this issue with Let’s Move. One of the initiatives in the Let’s Move program has committed to placing 6,000 salad bars in schools nationwide. However, none of these solutions fully address the problem of Food Deserts. These heavily secluded areas with no fresh produce are creating problems for people of all ages and their communities. This problem is something we need to continue to work on together.