Food is a basic human necessity, but families across the nation are not guaranteed access to healthy, affordable food. Families can find healthy food at grocery stores or local farmers markets. Being able to go out and find fresh food may be commonplace in certain parts of the country, but for about two percent of people across the nation (2.3 million), families cannot find a grocery store (let alone a farmers market) within a 10-mile radius of their home. The inability to have access to a grocery store that carries fresh produce creates a food desert. Food deserts can be described as geographic areas where access to affordable, healthy food options (especially fresh fruits and vegetables) is almost nonexistent due to the absence of grocery stores. While access to grocery stores is the first step to eating well, it is still not guaranteed. The inability to afford the basics can be exacerbated by high student loan debt and the rising cost of higher education.
So how can these areas lack grocery stores or basic access to fresh produce when we know how important it is? Unfortunately most of America lives in areas with very little resources, creating a socio-economic divide that can be very apparent. About 23.5 million people live in food deserts, and nearly half of them are also considered low-income. For example, when driving on the highway we tend to see an abundance of fast food restaurants and gas stations on the side of the road, but do you see that many grocery stores or markets? Probably not… and when living in areas like this, the residents are almost three times more likely to only have exposure to these fast food restaurants.
The limited amount of resources that people may have in the food deserts leaks into other aspects of life as well; for example, reports have found that many college students lack enough resources to afford basic food necessities. The Washington Post writes that 36 percent of students at 66 surveyed colleges and universities do not get enough to eat, and a similar number lack a secure place to live. As the price of higher education rises, students have to decide whether they are eating healthy — or at all.
Living in a food desert creates health- and wealth-related issues that only continue to increase. People have to choose between paying their loans, paying for school, or paying for food. Some government officials have tried helping; for example, Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign aims to help improve and eventually eradicate food deserts. Unfortunately, since then not much has been done to bring attention to the initiative. In 2017 the USDA created a food desert locator and map to show just where these areas are across the nation. Being able to see where these areas are can be helpful, but there is still so much that can be done to help enact change.
For students, some colleges have been able to alter dining plans to cover more meals and offer more low-cost options. Other suggestions have been for the colleges to partner with nonprofits that can distribute meals to the hungry. These nonprofits, like Feeding America, also help distribute to areas in need. If you are interested in doing even more, October 24th marks National Food Day which celebrates healthy, sustainable, and affordable food options while also pushing much need campaigns for better food policies.
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