There are many things that we take advantage of on a daily basis that seems inconsequential, but others do not have the same luxury. In today’s society we are bombarded with food commercials that entice us to go to the store and grab new products or visit a nearby restaurant and try new foods. Unfortunately, in some areas people are afforded the luxury to go buy any foods that they desire while others lack the same opportunities. With the growing trend to become more health conscious, food selection is an important aspect of health. But if some areas lack the opportunity to choose healthy foods, then there is a major injustice. A food desert, according to the USDA (2010), is a neighborhood that lacks choices of healthy and affordable food options. This is more common among small rural and low-income neighborhoods that lack transportation and retailers that supply healthy foods. These food deserts can only further health concerns and contribute to disease and high obesity rates.
There has been some participatory action research done in order to understand that factors associated with food deserts and to give suggestions to bring about social action. As stated in our lecture, participatory research aims to learn about issues that are prevalent in the community and create a strategy to effectively change the issues. One research study found that food deserts occur more among black and Hispanic neighborhoods that have higher rates of poverty (Brooks, 2014). The researcher suggested that, in order to combat the lack of grocery stores and healthy food options in the area, the community should develop some initiatives for food programs like farmers markets or a grocery delivery service. They also suggested that policies be made in order to entice supermarkets to develop infrastructure within these food deserts. Public advocacy, social action, and local services development are all essential in order to initiate change (Gruman, Schneider, and Coutts, 2017). Another study conducted by the USDA (2012) found that food deserts correlated with areas with high poverty rates and areas with minimal public transportation, but also found that rural areas with increasing population were less likely to have food deserts. Although some rural neighborhoods can be considered food deserts, many food deserts exist in urban areas with high unemployment rates and racial minorities.
So how can we change food deserts so that they have more access to healthy foods and overall better quality of life? Many organizations are already utilizing their resources to educate and awareness about food deserts, while also using social outreach to encourage policy change. One organization called the Food Empowerment Project works to provide more sustainable and healthy food options to low-income neighborhoods, while also encouraging those in more affluent neighborhoods to make healthier and environmentally friendly choices. They often do surveys of the community to determine the needs of the community and then contact public officials on how to better assist the community. Another way community members have helped minimize the impact of food deserts, are mobile food trucks like Second Harvest Food Bank in California that help distribute healthy foods to those in need (Food Tank, 2016).
Food deserts can have a major impact on the quality of health and wellbeing in low-income and minority neighborhoods. Many of these neighborhoods suffer from high rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease because of the lack of healthy foods in their area. By conducting more participatory research in these areas, it can help increase awareness of these social issues and bring about social justice. Policy change and community involvement are just some of the ways change can be initiated in these areas, but it first starts with awareness.
Brooks, K. (2014, March 10). Research shows food deserts more abundant in minority neighborhoods. Retrieved from https://hub.jhu.edu/magazine/2014/spring/racial-food-deserts/.
Dutko, Paula, Ver Ploeg, Michelle, & Farrigan, Tracey (2012). Characteristics and Influential Factors of Food Deserts, ERR-140, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
Food Empowerment Project. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://foodispower.org/.
Food Tank. (2016, November 27). Five Innovative Solutions From “Food Desert” Activists. Retrieved from https://foodtank.com/news/2013/05/five-innovative-solutions-from-food-desert-activists/.
Gruman J.A., Schneider, F.W., & Coutts, L.M. (2017). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.
United States Department of Agriculture. (2010). Access to Affordable, Nutritious Food Is Limited in “Food Deserts”. Retrieved from https://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2010/march/access-to-affordable-nutritious-food-is-limited-in-food-deserts/.