When was the last time you visited a supermarket? How long is the drive from your home to your local supermarket? Questions like these are often overlooked throughout the country and around the world. For many of us that have never thought about this that is because of our privilege of having easy access to food. Unfortunately, across the country and around the world, having access to affordable healthy produce is a dream, not a reality.
Places that have difficulty accessing healthy food are often low income and rural communities, which are often overlooked because of their economic status and geography. The term for communities like these is food deserts, areas in which finding affordable quality food is difficult.
Food deserts are an epidemic that affect the entire world. Not having access to nutritious and affordable food is a crime against humanity. In some areas food deserts relate to a place where unhealthy food is made more affordable than healthy food. Communities that are often targeted are the communities that are less educated and less informed, rural, and mostly low income.
An example is a small municipality in Guatemala, Santiago Atitlán. Lake Atitlán, the sacred body of water that borders this community, is polluted to the point where the water is no longer safe to drink. Water must be imported from neighboring areas, and that means high taxes on the water. Due to the NAFTA agreement with the United States, imported soft drinks are sold at a much lower price than water: about .20 cents is equal to 1.5 Guatemalan quetzal. The only option to escape this is to drink sodas like Coke and Fanta, cheaper alternatives to quench someone’s thirst. The policy is that American products like Coke will not be taxed when imported to Mexico, and other Mexican products coming to the U.S. will not be taxed as well.
It may seem like a fair contract on paper, but there are negative outcomes on both countries. It undermines communities like Santiago and its addiction to cheap Coke. In the long run, communities like these will face diabetes, obesity, and other health complications at no fault of their own but at the fault of blind leadership that negotiated these trade agreements with no consideration of the small towns that will be affected.
In the United States, Americans have the option to choose what they buy and what they eat but do not have the option of avoiding society’s judgement of what they choose.
America does not share the same issue with Mexico, but there are some similarities. Food deserts are a problem, but it is not as widespread compared to other countries.
The food crisis in America is more of an obesity problem. Fresh produce like fruits and vegetables are more costly than junk food. If a person does not frequently go to the supermarket or is not able to go, then the person’s shopping cart will probably be made up of items that can last them until their next trip. The person will most likely purchase instant noodles, instant macaroni and cheese, and other items that cannot go bad or rot.
At the same time, there is a stigma towards choosing natural and organic food. Produce that is organic like what is sold at Whole Foods are seen as for the affluent part of society, people that can afford a bag of apples for ten dollars or have the money to “go vegan.” For most Americans, this is not a luxury they can afford, but instead they must think of where their next meal is coming from.
Problems like these often go unheard. Philadelphia is an example of this. Philadelphia is full of corner stores and supermarkets, but most of the time supermarket chains like Walmart, Shoprite, Acme, and Giant are clenched together because geography affects customers. There are only two food deserts in Philadelphia, but that is a significant population. Philadelphia can easily solve this problem by providing initiatives to supermarket chains for placing a supermarket in a food desert. Initiatives like tax cuts will help supermarkets to have incentives to build new ones.
Food deserts are an issue that goes unheard, but it is not a problem can go unsolved.