A “food desert” is not apple pie, cookies ‘n ice-cream — that stuff is “dee-zert” where the former is “des-ert” where dry sand resides. “Food Deserts” are defined in the federal Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 as geographic areas “with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, particularly such an area composed of predominantly lower income neighborhoods and communities.” About 23.5 million US citizens (US’uns), including 6.5 million children, live in low-income areas that are deemed “food deserts”, according to White House sources.
California’s John Pérez, D-Los Angeles, speaker of the California Assembly introduces new legislation to combat California’s many hidden food deserts.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines “food deserts” as low-income areas where more than 500 people or 33 percent of the population lives more than one mile from an affordable food store. In rural towns, the distance is 10 miles. The problematic question is: “What constitutes “affordable”?
For some folks on fixed Social Security income for example, even a “tasteless”, bland single tomato, at $3.00+ per pound, may not be “affordable” no matter how close they live to the store; and for a healthier tomato, organically grown is even more expensive.
Many elderly, disabled and single-parents (especially women with children) rely on limited and often poverty level low incomes in both urban and rural “food deserts” where there is limited or no reliable transportation to large food stores “in the city”. Consequently, they often resort to ”convenience” stores, fast-food and gas stations kiosks as a source of two-dollar burgers, pastries, candies and other “junk-foods” which are more accessible than fresh meats, fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables and other healthy nutrition.
From “downtown” Joshua Tree, for example, the nearest “lower priced” source is Food-4-Less in west Yucca Valley – a round-trip distance of about 12 miles, but few actually live at or near the “downtown” point in Joshua Tree, making the trip distance much greater. Residents might have to drive 10 miles or more to find stores with items they can afford. Even then, many “close by” outlets might not carry important items like fresh fruits and vegetables. Recently, (Jul-Aug 2011) Wal-Mart, in mid Yucca Valley, began carrying fruits and vegetables, albeit very limited, pre-boxed selections and in small quantities while major grocery chains carry a much wider variety and in bulk quantities.
Public transportation is provided by the Morongo Basin Transit Authority along the 29-Palms highway corridor in rural areas and limited “off highway” regions of higher density “city” locations. Trying to carry 20 to 50 pounds of groceries for a family of just 4 from a store to a bus stop, then off the bus at a location somewhere “near home” — could be several blocks or even miles away, where public transportation does not venture onto rural dirt roads, precludes using public transportation resources which simply means one either walks or uses some form of private vehicle, when and if available. Even if a car is available, one may trade one tomato for the price of almost a gallon of gas to get there. The disabled, especially in wheelchairs, are the hardest hit for “long distance” transportation beyond a couple miles at best.
The food sources available in the Morongo Basin are varied. There are, a couple “once-a-week” farmer’s open-air markets, limited convenience stores and kiosks located at many gas stations. From Joshua Tree they range in distance from 3 to 15 miles and many do not carry fresh meats, fish, eggs, fruits and vegetable goods with the exception of very limited long shelf-life fruits such as apples.
Circle K, Joshua Tree – 3 miles
Sam’s Market II, Joshua Tree – 3 miles (Note 1)
Stater Brothers, YV – 5 miles
Wal-Mart, YV – 5 miles
Mesa Market, YV – 5.2 miles
Circle K, YV – 6 miles
Food-4-Less, YV – 6 miles
Star Market & Liquor, YV – 6 miles
Stater Brothers, YV – 6.3 miles
Super One Foods, YV – 7.5 miles
American Food Bank, YV – 8 miles (Note 2)
7-Eleven, YV – 8.3 miles
Indian Cove Market, 29-Palms – 9 miles
Stater Brothers, 29-Palms – 12.5 miles
Plaza Market, 29-Palms – 15 miles
Circle K, 29-Palms – 15 miles
7-Eleven, 29-Palms – 15 miles
29 Farms Market, 29-Palms – 15 miles
Cando Country Market, Morongo Valley – 14 miles
Note: 1) Sams Mkt: Canned & dry food products, dairy, pastries, very limited fruit & vegetables
Note: 2) Free food goods to qualified recipients
Now, a new program between major retailers and the Partnership for a Healthier America, started by First Lady Michelle Obama, aims to give these areas better access to foods that are a key part of a healthy diet. This program is part of the ongoing effort to reduce childhood obesity, by targeting areas where access seems to be a barrier to a healthy diet. Many people in these areas turn to fast-food restaurants and convenience stores to get food for their families.
New California law to increase access to healthy foods
On the dawn of the Great Depression, then-presidential candidate Herbert Hoover famously promised a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage. Today, even as our nation muddles through our own Great Recession, one look at the 405 freeway during rush hour makes clear that as a nation and state, we have certainly managed to put a car in almost every garage. However, our ability to deliver on the chicken—and other healthy food items—is a challenge we absolutely must meet if we are to protect and improve the health of the people of California.
While most would consider dietary choice one of the biggest hurdles to healthy living, California’s nutritional shortcomings extend beyond that of trans fat and caloric challenges, and into the disturbing realm of simple access to affordable, healthy food options. Even in the year 2011, there are urban and rural communities throughout the state whose residents do not have access to grocery stores that offer fruits, vegetables and dairy products. These communities, referred to as “food deserts,” are not only prevalent in California, but are cause for concern throughout the entire country. Residents of food deserts generally have higher incidences of premature death, and are susceptible to a variety of nutrition-related ailments, including heart disease and diabetes.
Even though California’s farmers have an international reputation for their production of high quality, healthy fruits and vegetables, food deserts are a real public health problem in California. That’s why I authored Assembly Bill 581, legislation that begins to eliminate food deserts, increases access to healthy foods and has the potential to create jobs in the local economies of food desert areas.
Last year, President Obama initiated the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, a partnership between the U.S. departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, and Treasury, to invest $340 million nationwide with the goal of eliminating food deserts across the country within seven years through innovative financing, grants and private sector engagement. AB 581 creates California’s own Healthy Food Financing Initiative, marking the beginning of an effort to assist communities of need through financing options, as well as partnerships with governmental agencies, non-profits and philanthropic groups.
AB 581 also enables California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross to establish an advisory committee that will provide the Legislature with recommendations by July 1, 2012, on how to increase access to healthy foods.
I have firsthand knowledge of the economic benefits that occur in communities that combat food deserts. I worked for nearly a decade to bring a full-service grocery store to the downtown Los Angeles neighborhood I now represent. The community—which was previously considered a food desert—is now home to one of the most profitable stores in the entire chain. Bringing that grocery store to the neighborhood benefitted both the public health and the local economy—something AB 581 stands to duplicate all over California.
California’s farmers have been providing healthy food to people all over the world, and now the Legislature’s overwhelming bipartisan support of AB 581, coupled with Gov. Brown signing the bill into law, will increase access to healthy foods in underserved rural and urban communities, right here at home. So even if someone doesn’t have a car in their garage, they won’t have to look too far to find a healthy chicken—and vegetables—for their pot.
John Pérez, D-Los Angeles, serves as speaker of the California Assembly.
Reprint Permission granted : California Farm Bureau Federation
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TO ADD A LITTLE HUMOR TO AN OTHERWISE SERIOUS ISSUE
SEE IMAGES OF “FAST-FOOD”
ADVERTISING PHOTOS vs PHOTOS OF WHAT YOU GET