The movement to eradicate food deserts would benefit from, of all things, banishment of the term food desert.
In a job where I’m seeking innovations that allow more families to have better access to fresh fruits and vegetables, I’m struck that advocates seem mostly interested in mapping and remapping the same neighborhoods to establish conclusive proof that food deserts exist. By the USDA definition, that means documenting “a census tract with a substantial share of residents who live in low-income areas that have low levels of access to a grocery store or healthy, affordable food retail outlet.”
The problem is that this approach focuses on diagnosis but not cure. It’s as if doctors kept perfecting the test for polio without looking for a vaccine.
The food desert diagnosis too easily turns into a club used to beat families most in need. Being labeled a food desert makes a neighborhood undesirable, rather than a target of opportunity.
The discussion gets mean-spirited when critics assert that it’s the people — not the neighborhoods — who are broken.
In poor neighborhoods where there’s more violence and limited opportunities, some assume that residents brought the difficult circumstances on themselves, that families like living on the dole.
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