Food wasn't the first thing that came to mind when I volunteered to become a forest ranger this summer. However, throughout my time as a forest ranger at the Daniel Boone National Forest, I lived in a food desert, a community without ready access to healthy food sources. As I came to the realization that healthy food sources were scarce, my stomach rumbled uneasily from anxiety. What would my diet consist of this summer? 

Initial Thoughts

Grocery Shopping, grocery story, egg carton, reusable bags, orange, egg, Trader Joe's, apple
Jocelyn Hsu

As my co-ranger picked me up from the small Lexington airport, she mentioned that we needed to stop by a "decent" grocery store before leaving the city. So, as we stocked up on essentials at Trader Joe's, I told myself not to worry. 

There was a Kroger a few towns over that my co-workers and I could carpool to and from, and planning ahead for groceries wouldn't be that hard considering I'd pretty much buy the same things every week. I told myself that it wouldn't be too difficult. 

Reality Sinks In 

Hannah Brown

About an hour after settling into the government-provided housing, I realized I forgot to buy half of the things I'd set out to get. Making lunch turned into munching on a sad PB&J sandwich while looking for the grapes I was sure I bought.

The week only got worse from there. Dinners were small and limited to what my addled brain had fixated on at Trader Joe's. I didn't really think about how much of what I ate would need to be able to withstand the trails. As a result, my diet suffered. 

As someone who considers herself healthy, I became a little sick after running out of fresh ingredients early on and sustaining myself off of heavily preserved foods. 

Sammy Mintzer

When I finally made it to the grocery store, I was prepared. I had a list of everything I would need for trail-friendly meals and enough reusable grocery bags to take half of the store home. During the 45-minute ride to the store, I was positive that things were looking up.

Unfortunately, I didn't have the opportunity to reap the benefits of my preparation due to the lack of healthy options at Kroger. The majority of its aisles consisted of unhealthy, pre-packaged foods. Many of my favorite healthy staples were in short supply, while others weren't present at all. 

Seeing shoppers pile up their carts with cheese puffs and soda haunted me for the entirety of visits to the store. As the weeks progressed, I realized that these unhealthy purchasing practices of locals were heavily influenced by the offerings (or lack thereof) at the local stores.

My Takeaway

organic fruit, Organic, salad, cabbage, fruit aisle, Vegetables, lettuce, Green, veggies, juice, mango, watermelon, vegetable aisle, Whole Foods Market
Shelby Cohron

While I only spent two months in the food desert, my views on the role food plays in our lives changed drastically. Before working as a forest ranger, I could just run down the block and pick up an ingredient from a nearby store, and I definitely took that for granted.

Now, I'm incredibly grateful that I'm able to eat when and what I choose, but I also feel obligated to let others know that we are privileged to do so. By starting the conversation and raising awareness about this issue, we can make movements toward ensuring a future where no one has to settle for dinner.