The American food system needs an upgrade.
A food system includes all activities involved in the production, processing, distribution, selling, and eating of food. The ways we relate with our food touch nearly every part of our lives, and each of the areas encompassed by a food system have tremendous impacts on the health and vitality of neighborhoods and individuals. There are lots of exciting initiatives going on throughout the nation (and the world, for that matter) addressing all of the various parts of the food system. One part of the food system that we think is prime for disruptions is food access.
Food access is what it sounds like- people’s ability to access safe, affordable and healthy foods. If you’ve spent any time in lower-income neighborhoods, you know this is an issue.
Public health professionals have long believed that ZIP code is at least as important as race, age and genetics in determining a person’s health. And they’re right: much of a person’s ability to access food is affected by their geographic location, their access to reliable transportation and their income level. Both urban and rural areas of the US have food access challenges. One way these access issues manifest is through food deserts and food swamps.
What are Food Deserts?
The White House estimates that, as of 2010, over 23.5 million Americans (including 6.5 million children) currently live in food deserts. So what is a “food desert”, exactly?
The USDA defines a “food desert” as, “a low income census tract where a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store.” The USDA has specific definitions for what qualifies a census tract as “low income.” “Low access” is defined as well, in part by how many supermarkets or large grocery stores are located within 1 mile of a neighborhood. (Get all the details here.)
Why should we care if folks live in a food desert?
It makes intuitive sense that the first step in eating healthy food is being able to get your hands on it. Depending on your transportation options, getting to a grocery store more than a mile away may prove discouragingly difficult, if not impossible. (Do you live in a food desert? Check out this interactive map.) Advocates of “re-storing” the food deserts assert that getting fresh, affordable and appealing food options into neighborhoods that are lacking them is an essential first step in helping Americans reclaim their health.
So, I get the idea of a Food Desert… but what is a Food Swamp?
A food swamp is an area where there’s an overabundance of high-energy, low nutrient foods (read: fast food) compared to healthy food options. Low-income communities are usually the swampiest, with nearly twice the number of fast food restaurants and convenience stores as wealthier neighborhoods. Even in neighborhoods with grocery stores, the plethora of low nutrient options in a food swamp can crowd out healthier options, particularly for kids and busy families. This is a problem because there are clear relationships between high levels of access to fast food and negative health outcomes such as weight gain (even to the point of obesity).
What’s crazy is that an area can be both a food desert and a food swamp. Think back to that low income neighborhood in your city: all the fast food chains provide cheaper and more convenient food options than the single stack of bananas at the gas station.
What we are doing?
We are working on building a food delivery program. This programs will provide fully nutritious meals for radically affordable prices. The goal is to be able to feed a grown person 5 times a day (3 full meals, 2 snacks) for $15/day. While, we can't offer our food delivery program for that price yet, we are getting closer every day. We are currently working on making recipes, making deals with suppliers, and researching distribution methods. We fully believe that this food program could have a significant impact on the health of areas with inadequate access to healthy food.