Our connection with food is a cornerstone of our lives and has a powerful means of dictating how we live. To that end, there are about a thousand different quotes and phrases associated with food and the things we choose to eat. Though all of these quotes go some way towards explaining our relationship with food, a few of the simplest phrases really get to the heart of it and have a deeper truth to them.
Food is a way of life.
Yes, food is a way of life in every way imaginable. Your upbringing, culture, and family values may say a great deal about the foods you eat. Foods can describe cultures, social classes, family relationships, hobbies, personal values, philosophies, and so on.
You are what you eat.
Likewise, the things you consume and foods that you choose will also reflect upon you. For instance, a diet full of healthy, minimally processed products will dictate your energy levels and influence your personal fitness. On the other hand, heavily processed foods with little nutritional value have been shown to lead to unhealthier bodies with a higher risk of disease and other health problems.
Making the choice to eat healthy food is a good one that many people opt into every day. However, for some portion of the population, there aren’t always options. The food available is the food you get and oftentimes it isn’t the healthy, nutritious stuff. In some places, food deserts create situations where choices are limited and individual health suffers.
The Rise of the Food Desert
Food deserts are a quiet problem that many people aren’t aware of. They occur in cities, rural areas, suburban communities, and intercity environments, though most often they occur in poor and remote neighborhoods. By definition, a food desert exists anywhere healthy food is hard to find affordably.
Low-income minority communities are the most likely to be categorized as food deserts. Oftentimes, the most at-risk communities are over a mile from the nearest grocery store and have limited transportation options, which makes the local convenience store the most realistic option for the vast majority of food purchases. Some research suggests that nearly 2.3 million Americans live in food desert situations such as this.
Numerous factors contribute to the existence of food deserts both on a community level and a societal level. For instance, many supermarkets avoid opening stores in low-income neighborhoods because of costs and risks. Market research suggests that stores in these locations are less profitable, more expensive to stock, and more likely to experience crime. Even factors such as globalization may be contributing to the rise of food deserts today because it is cheaper to move highly processed foods and sell them for less.
Growing Health Concerns
Of course, when quality food is limited, many people will opt for what they can afford to get easily. Most often, this means highly processed convenience store foods that are high in salt, sugars, carbohydrates, and trans fats. This gets to the crux of the problem with food deserts — they are linked to a deterioration of individual and overall community health.
Individuals that live within a food desert are categorically more likely to experience negative health outcomes such as type II diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and obesity as a result of the foods they are regularly consuming. Even less obvious health concerns like an increased risk of cataracts can be linked to a poor diet and an increased risk of obesity or diabetes.
Poor food options can have lasting impacts on children especially. A healthy diet and good nutrition are essential to healthy development and a reduction of the risk of chronic diseases further down the road. Some studies have even linked a nutritious diet in formative years to long-term mental health and hormone level management.
Finding Nutrition in a Desert
Unfortunately, food deserts are not an easy problem to fix. Numerous failed government programs have strived to increase incentives for grocery stores to open within nutritious food-limited regions. But this doesn’t solve the problem. It simply isn’t enough to change the dietary habits of the majority of the community in the area.
What is needed are community-based approaches that can win greater buy-in and personal investment from the local community members. Home-grown options such as community gardens, free fruit trees, or local community markets. Solutions are going to be different for each community and based on their unique needs. For instance, in rural communities, coming together to open a local market where farmers can sell directly to community members might go a long way toward helping.
Education is another important component to increasing healthy food outcomes for individuals and building interest in healthier foods in general. It can come in many forms from learning how to budget for healthier foods, to gaining knowledge about how to cook affordable, nutritious meals, to gaining a greater understanding of the links between unhealthy foods and negative health outcomes.
Food deserts are a much bigger problem than many people realize. Finding local, effective ways to address them is ultimately the key to improving individual health and helping everyone live a healthier lifestyle.
Just 1 in 10 adults meet the federal fruit or vegetable recommendations, according to a study published in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). This report highlights that very few Americans eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables every day, putting them at risk for chronic diseases.
Studies have shown that supplementation with nutrients from fruits and vegetables may improve age-related changes.
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