A couple of years ago a new grocery store opened up across the street from the one to which my family normally went. It was then that we stopped going to the normal grocery store and went to the new one. For over two million Americans, this is not the case. Over two million Americans do not have access to fresh and nutritious food because they live in a food desert

What is a food desert?

apple, peach, vegetable
Cherie Mak

A food desert is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a "part of the country lacking access to fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas." This means that these areas lack grocery stores within convenient traveling distance. While these areas are not completely devoid of access to food, there are usually convenience stores that offer the public high sugar and high fat, processed foods.

Who is impacted by food deserts?

vegetable, carrot, local produce, fresh vegetables, farmer's market
Sam Jesner

The majority of people that are impacted by food deserts are ethnic minorities and low-income populations. Studies have shown that wealthier districts have three times the amount of supermarkets than poorer districts. Furthermore, white neighborhoods have four times as many supermarkets than predominately black neighborhoods. Residents of urban areas pay between three and thirty-seven percent more for the same products than suburban residents do.

One of the major causes of food deserts is the lack of transportation. Approximately 2.3 million Americans live more than one mile from a supermarket and do not have a car. While urban areas have better access to public transportation, many supermarkets are leaving cities because of real estate prices and other costs of operation. Because of the isolation within food deserts, many are left to rely on convenience stores and fast-food chains.

berry, sweet, strawberry, local fruit, local farm, farmer's market, shop local, organic fruit
Sam Jesner

In addition to the heavily processed foods offered in these convenience stores, many sometimes sell fruit and vegetables. While this is a step in the right direction, the person behind the counter often prices the produce, leaving the customer at the mercy of the cashier. The limited access to food granted by convenience stores offer low access to cultural food as well as to foods for dietary restrictions such as lactose intolerance and gluten intolerance.

While healthy foods are usually more expensive than unhealthy foods, a whole other price is being paid to eat in these food deserts – health. The lack of access to healthy food is one of the main contributors to the higher rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease for ethnic minority groups and low-income populations

What is being done about this?

pineapple, apple, vegetable, pasture, juice, banana
Jocelyn Hsu

While part of the former first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move Initiative aimed to eradicate food deserts by 2017, they sadly still exist. This is evident by the Food Desert Locator sponsored by the USDA. Many cities including Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York are offering initiatives to end food deserts, including preventing fast food chains from expanding within food deserts. More urban areas are also turning to mobile grocery services, where the grocery store arranges delivery for the customers.

The reality of food deserts is just that. It is a reality for many Americans today. Access to healthy food should not be dependent on where you live and who you are.