Inconvenient food

It is an unfortunate fact that healthy food often costs more than food that offers little or no nutritional value. The average price of a gallon of milk is estimated to be $3.50, while a two liter bottle of soda can be purchased for about $1.50 (approximately 3.79 liters per gallon.) A entire bag of chips can cost the same as just one piece of fruit.

And if that isn’t bad enough, many poor neighborhoods don’t even have the option to buy healthy food. Eating out means selecting from the available fast food restaurants. Food shopping is done at the only store in town, sometimes more convenience store than grocery store. They are called food deserts.

While volunteering with Food For All in Washington, D.C. , to deliver food baskets to homebound residents, I noticed many of the poor neighborhoods had no stores of any kind save a pawn shop, payday loan/check cashing, and perhaps a convenience store. Not only did that mean no jobs, but it meant no healthy food either.

A new USDA report suggests that these food deserts are rare–data that contradicts many advocates for the poor. The report to Congress found that 2.2% of U.S. households, 2.3 million, lack both a car and live more than a mile from a supermarket. It also found that those in poorer neighborhoods are more likely to live closer to a grocery store, though it takes slightly longer to get there. Instead, the report suggests, poor diets and obesity may be linked more to living in areas that have an abundance of fast food rather than living farther away from healthy food.

Regardless, for some 35 million Americans it matters little how close they live to a supermarket because they cannot afford to buy groceries. The 2007 U.S. Conference of Mayor’s Hunger and Homelessness Survey states that the main causes of hunger in survey cities were poverty, unemployment and high housing costs.

–By Jennifer E. Cooper