When the term Food Desert is used, what initially comes to your mind? Before I had been exposed to what it actually means in different classes throughout my college career, the image that would come to my mind is a picture of the Sahara Desert with a few bananas, oranges, and apples, or something of the like, scattered throughout the sand dunes. What comes to your mind if you are not educated on the subject, similar to how I was, may not be quite as ridiculous or outrageous as the image that would pop into my mind. But it may still be off from what the actual definition is.
According to the USDA, a food desert is an area were “at least 500 people and/or at least 33 percent of the census tract’s population must reside more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store (for rural census tracts, the distance is more than 10 miles)” (American Nutrition Association). However, if you are like me, this still does not answer the question, what is a food desert? Through my classes and online reading I have found other descriptions such as, “food deserts are defined as parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods” (American Nutrition Association). I think this description does a better job summing the term up.
This still does not give people an idea of how and/or why food deserts occur. Most articles on the subject will say food deserts are mainly found in impoverished areas, but none explain why this is. The best explanation I have found to date comes from the movie, A Place at the Table. First, they say it comes down to where we grow our food and how it is processed and then distributed. If we grow monocultures of crops in specific areas across the country and then ship it to only a few processing plants/distributing companies there are only so many places that food will eventually end up. Especially when it comes to fresh fruit and vegetables that can only shipped so far before spoiling. Most impoverished areas and communities are in rural places or in the middle of cities, both of which are far away from the main trucking highways. Because they are not close to the main trucking lines, it takes longer to deliver food to those areas. Thus making it harder, or more properly less economical, for distribution companies to deliver fresh foods to those areas. This is ultimately what creates food deserts; depending on a food system that relies on monoculture agriculture, high processing of foods, and further and further distances from each step to where the consumers live.
Here is a map of food deserts in the U.S. from the USDA
Here is a map of the top 25 food distributors and the main highway systems in the U.S.
“Foodservice.com : Top 50 Foodservice Distributors.” Foodservice.com. Food Service Interactive, n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2014. <http://www.foodservice.com/foodshow/foodservice_distributors.cfm>.
“USDA Defines Food Deserts.” American Nutrition Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2014. <http://americannutritionassociation.org/newsletter/usda-defines-food-deserts>.