How Many Miles Do You Walk for Fruits & Vegetables?

Food Deserts Persist

When in a dry desert, basic needs go unmet.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that moving into the Austin neighborhood on Chicago’s Westside meant that I would have to travel a fair distance in order to purchase fruits and vegetables.

If I wanted a super taco, rib tips, candy, or potato chips, I had multiple options - all just a stroll away in any direction.

But the major grocers, the ones that housed food with nutritional value, were only in driving distance.

At the time that I lived in this community I was a student with a hectic schedule. It was often much easier to resort to buying a ready-cooked meal from one of the local pizza or chicken joints than to purchase groceries.

Eventually, I struck a balance and planned ahead in order to incorporate traveling to a grocery store into my chaotic schedule.

I was fortunate; I owned a vehicle, and I won my race against the clock. But what happens to the single parents who have anything but time to spare or elderly residents who lack the financial means to travel for miles in search of a market?

Easy Access?

There are an abundance of liquor stores, fast food chains, quaint eateries, and what we affectionately call corner stores that offer everything but what is needed to lead a healthy lifestyle.

In some urban and rural areas, these types of establishments are geographically overabundant but financially accessible to residents largely due to the low cost of processed foods.

In the rare instance that there is a grocery store located within the confines of an urban and/or rural neighborhood, produce prices are often astronomical.

Obese, but Still Starving

The bellies of children are being filled, but their bodies lack proper nutrition and often carry excess weight. This is because they consume food that is higher in calories than nutritional value. And it’s not just the children.

Larson, et al. (2009) cites studies published by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (2006 and 2007) and the American Journal of Health Promotion (2007). Combined, the studies suggest that amongst children, adolescents, and adults, the rate of obesity in urban communities almost doubles in comparison with suburban areas that have supermarkets in close proximity to their homes.

Oases in the Sand

Community members are joining forces to combat the effects of food deserts.

Local, state, and national governments are also offering alternatives to vegetables and fruit that are either high-priced or deficient in areas referred to as food deserts. The east coast offers the innovatively local Veggie Mobile

An alternative solution in mid-western Wisconsin and Illinois can be found through this site. One can more readily seek out grants for green programs that foster advancement within the community while teaching youth how to grow, prepare, and locally sell fresh fruits and vegetables.

Other efforts, like those of Mayor Bing in Detroit, found here, demonstrate not only recognition of a dire need, but willingness to form coalitions that offer promising long-term solutions.

Life Lesson

Food deserts continue to pose a challenge in many urban and rural communities today.

In retrospect, I was not as fortunate as I thought I was for creating my own beeline to a grocery store. I say this because prior to moving from the Westside of Chicago I was not actively involved in any of the community garden projects. Doing so would not have only enhanced my life, but the lives of others in that community as well.

It seems that one cannot pinpoint a primary cause or solution to food deserts, but I chose to be oblivious to the obvious when I was living in one. This year I plan to correct for that. My goal is to be a part of the solution by volunteering my time to help harvest summer crops.

Why not join me by lending a helping hand to a community garden in your area?

Related article: Black Farmers Today

Additional resources:

The US Department of Agriculture offers a detailed report.

An interview with one of Chicago’s Healthy Foods Advocates, LaDonna Redmond

Photo: Local Food Sandusky

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