Chapter 5: Food Deserts

Food Desert Challenge: Day 1
“Food Desert Challenge: Day 1” by Mark Bonica is licensed under CC BY 2.0

A. Warm up

Think about the questions below to prepare you for the topic. Talk about your ideas with your classmate(s).

  1. What is the closest grocery store or supermarket to where you live?
  2. How do you travel to that supermarket? How long does it take?
  3. What are some of the challenges you experience to eating healthy foods?
  4. Have you ever heard of the term “food desert”? What do you think it might mean?

B. Vocabulary Preview

Search for definitions and/or translations of the words. Review the new terms with your instructor and classmates.

  • access (noun)
  • obstacles (noun)
  • inflated (adjective)
  • urban (adjective)
  • impact (verb and noun)

C. Read all about it!

Food Deserts

To live a long and healthy life, we know that we need to eat fresh fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains. What we eat impacts our overall health and our life span. This means we should try to avoid processed foods and junk food as much as we can. Sounds easy, right? Not exactly.

Research from the U.S. The Department of Agriculture shows that more than 23 million people live in areas without healthy eating options. Communities without access to supermarkets and healthy food are known as “Food Deserts.” This is an issue related to access because it has to do with communities being able to  get the things they need easily. Here are some examples of obstacles: not having a car and having to take public transportation to a supermarket outside of your neighborhood,  having a low income and not being able to afford fresh and healthy foods because they cost more than processed foods, experiencing limited time to shop for and cook healthy foods because of a long work day, only being able to do local shopping at a liquor store or gas station market where individual items like bananas and apples are sold individually and at an inflated price, etc.

There are other considerations to think about related to food deserts too. For example, an urban environment (a downtown setting) is less likely to have a grocery store because of the cost of retail space. Rural areas are less likely to have healthy food options too; fewer people may mean fewer options for food shopping. Overall communities that have a lower-income experience the greatest impact from food deserts with fewer grocery stores compared to higher-income neighborhoods. These are also usually areas with many communities of color.

Food deserts are all over the United States usually in communities that have high unemployment rates, lower levels of education among residents, and abandoned homes. Food deserts also bring higher rates of obesity, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and weaker immune systems overall.

So what can we do about food deserts? Some actions we can take to support communities living in food deserts include building a community garden so that people can grow fresh fruit and vegetables at an affordable price, promoting a farmer’s market to help the community exchange goods, improving access to reliable transportation so that people can travel to supermarkets when they need to, and actively calling for a change in city planning so that supermarkets can open in these neighborhoods.

The first step to helping everyone live healthier and longer lives is learning about the problem and educating ourselves about how we can help to fix this in our communities.

D. Discussion

Talk to your partner(s) about the following questions. Consider choosing roles for the discussion:

  • note-taker (write down key ideas that come up)
  • time-keeper (make sure you are on track with time)
  • facilitator (make sure everyone gets a chance to share)
  • speaker (share the key ideas from the discussion with the larger class)
  1. What is a food desert? Try to use your own words to describe this.
  2. Talk about your own area or neighborhood: Are fresh fruit and vegetables accessible? Do you think you live in a food desert?
  3. What are some of the negative impacts that come with experiencing life in a food desert?
  4. What are some solutions we can be a part of to help fix the problem of food deserts in our communities?

E. Topics for Writing

Choose a topic to write about. Be sure to practice the five steps in “Getting Ready to Write” to get started with the topic(s) you choose.

  1. Imagine that you are teaching a friend, family member, or classmate about the term “food desert.” Explain what it is and why it matters.
  2. Reflect on the information you have learned about food deserts both from the reading in Part C and from the Additional Resources in Part G of this chapter (see below). Write about some key solutions to the problem. What ideas do you have about how to help solve the problem of food deserts that impacts our communities?
  3. Watch the TED talk “A guerilla gardener in South Central LA” by Ron Finley. Write about how Finley transformed his neighborhood. Here are some questions you might consider writing about: What challenges did Finley face in the garden project? How did he and his community work to overcome these challenges? What key points does Finley make to educate the audience about the problem of food deserts?
  4. Choose a local market (one that is closest to where you live currently). Conduct a research study in which you find out the answers to these questions and write an essay about the results. Write about what you discovered about the market closest to your neighborhood. Do you live in a food desert?
    1. How far is the market?
    2. How can you travel to get to this market?
    3. Does the store have fresh fruits?
    4. Does the store have fresh vegetables?
    5. Does the store have whole grains?
    6. Where are the fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains located in the store?
    7. Does the store have an organic section?
    8. Are the above items sold in bulk or separately by item?
    9. Are the above items affordable?
    10. Is the market open at convenient times for you/for customers?
    11. Is the market clean and sanitary?

F. Project!

Search for information about community garden projects in your area. Is there a community garden? Where? If not, is there an interest in creating one? Make a presentation about this to your classmates and instructor.

G. Additional Resources