As you probably know, eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables promotes good health and helps to protect against many chronic diseases. But did you know that for almost 30 million people in America, and billions more worldwide, healthy, affordable food is difficult if not impossible to obtain?
Areas without access to nutritious, high-quality, affordable food are known as food deserts. People who live in food deserts don’t have a supermarket or grocery store within a mile of their home if they live in an urban area or within 10 miles of their home if they live in a rural area.
In the developed world, most of the people who live in food deserts have an abundance of highly processed, high-sodium, sugary options — and that’s about it. Is it any accident that these communities tend to have exorbitantly high rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other food-related ailments?
Children living in poverty are seven times more likely to suffer from poor health, compared to children living in high-income households. But some people and organizations are changing lives and communities and standing as beacons of hope.
Like Taj Anwar.
To see her story and how she’s making a difference, watch this short, powerful, and inspiring video:
Are you inspired?
Taj is a single mom in Atlanta, GA, who is growing her own food and providing for her community.
Taj knows that simply giving people in food deserts better access to healthy food won’t solve the problem by itself. People also need education and help to understand how and why to choose different foods than they’re used to. Taj is teaching people how to change their habits and to move in healthier directions. (You can find out more about her work here.)
Gratefully, Taj is far from alone. All over the world, organizations are springing up to help turn food deserts into food oasis – and to transform the health of people and of communities. Here are some great examples.
The Food Trust also founded the National Healthy Corner Store Network, which connects community members, nonprofits, local government, funders, and other advocates across the U.S. to share information, resources, and best practices on the latest strategies for healthy food retail in small stores. While the network is currently in the process of finding funding to relaunch its work, they already have some great resources to help people who want to build healthier communities through healthier corner stores. For example, they created a healthy guide to help corners stores learn how to sell healthy foods and attract more customers in a sustainable and profitable way.
Plus, their Healthy Food Access Portal has a large amount of information to support success planning and implementation of policies, programs, and projects to improve access to healthy food. The website has a funding section to help people finance healthy food projects, news about healthy food access, and a tool to help advocates better understand their communities.
If you believe access to good, healthy food should be a basic right, you can take action by supporting the organizations above and others working to improve access to healthy food. Some other innovative ideas for tackling food deserts include food co-ops, mobile food markets, and bus stop farmers markets.
Community gardens are pieces of land that are gardened or cultivated by groups of people. They are typically owned by local governments, nonprofits, or faith-based organizations. Individuals can also create community gardens by cleaning and cultivating vacant lots. Community gardens, urban farms, and backyard gardens can help make a difference to increase the availability of healthy, fresh food.
If you live in a food desert (you can see a map of food deserts in the U.S. here), the Food Empowerment Project recommends you start by helping those in your community understand what living in a food desert means and talking about ways to make changes. You can discuss the option of growing your own food, working with local retailers to sell healthy foods, and you can bring your ideas and concerns to policy makers, such as city council members and state legislators.