Yesterday the New York Times ran an article that raised the idea that poor urban neighborhoods are not food deserts. Citing recent studies, the author, Gina Kolata, quoted researchers who found that low-income neighborhoods have plenty of options for buying fresh, healthy food, and that obesity has no correlation to food access.
These studies add another layer of understanding to the complex issue of equitable access to healthy food. Working with the Baltimore Food Policy Initiative, my colleagues and I have re-defined what constitutes a food desert in Baltimore. Here, as in many urban areas, food deserts are not just about supermarkets. Back in 2009, we looked at household income and access to supermarkets. For the 2012 Baltimore City Food Environment Map, we looked at more subtle factors, such as distance to the nearest supermarket, and what kind of transportation options were available in households. Read More >
On Tuesday, Animal Welfare Approved and the Pew Environment Group presented a public panel discussion about raising pasture-based animals, and reclaiming these sustainable farming systems as the source of our meat and dairy. The star-studded panel included Nicolette Hahn Niman, attorney and author of Righteous Porkchop, Carole Morison, former Purdue chicken farmer turned whistleblower and sustainable farming consultant, David Kirby, investigative journalist and author of Animal Factory and Dr. Patricia Whisnant, vet, rancher and president of the American Grassfed Association. As farmers, Carole Morison and Dr. Whisnant have had personal experiences with the industrial animal agriculture system currently producing most of the meat in our country today, and have chosen another path. Nicolette’s husband Bill Niman founded Niman Ranch, which he has since left as he felt that the standards declined to a point he couldn’t live with, after a management change in 2006. They continue to raise beef on pasture but sell under a private label. Kirby has turned his investigative skills on factory farming – the way we raise most of our meat today – and what he found out has spurred him to let out a battle cry to put an end to these factories that call themselves farms. Read More >
Maryland House Bill 1135, the Grocery Store Property Tax Credit Bill, passed the House yesterday with 138-0 votes! The bill grants a property tax credit to grocery stores throughout the state located in low-income areas. Delegate Justin Ross, the main sponsor of the bill, represents Prince George’s County, an urban county surrounding Washington, DC. Delegate Ross clearly sees the need for attracting new and better grocery stores into low income areas, especially low income urban areas, to help provide better access to healthy foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables (the bill stipulates that a grocery store is defined as entity where “at least 20% of the gross receipts of which are 3% derived from the retail sale of fresh produce”).
Baltimore's Food Deserts
The lack of quality supermarkets and groceries in low income areas has been receiving much greater attention recently. And these underserved areas are being referred to as “food deserts.” While there is no strict definition of a food desert, the term generally mean areas that do not have easy access (within walking distance in cities or a reasonable driving distance in rural areas) to a supermarket, notably the most reliable and most utilized source for healthy foods. The USDA’s Economic Research Service just published an article on food deserts in their March Amber Waves magazine. The concern comes from a greater appreciation of the role access to healthy foods plays in one’s diet. It is not enough to recommend that people eat “5 a Day” and educate people about how to shop for healthy foods and prepare them. This will do little good if people don’t have access to the recommended foods. We at the Center for a Livable Future (CLF) are excited by the recent attention that the “food environment” is receiving (for a detailed examination see Policy Link study).
The issue has come to the attention of local government officials as well – in 2008 former Baltimore City Mayor Sheila Dixon created the Baltimore Food Policy Task Force, of which CLF’s Anne Palmer was an active member. The Task Force’s report lists 10 recommendations to improve access; however, many of these recommendations have short-term impact and rely on alternative and seasonal sources for produce. People need access to healthy food year round, again which can be most reliably found at supermarkets and grocery stores. The Task Force recognized the lack of quality supermarkets in the city, but also recognized that the solution to the problem was long-term and they were tasked with looking for short-term, actionable recommendations. HB 1135 is perhaps one long-term solution to attracting the kind of supermarkets Baltimore needs (and that are needed in other low income areas in Maryland). The bill also leaves room for both large chain supermarkets and smaller grocery stores (even corner stores?!) to qualify as a “grocery” – if they can prove that their primary business is selling food at retail and that 20% of their profits come from produce. This flexibility could prove useful in finding creative solutions to food deserts, in that large, chain supermarkets may not be the answer for all locations. Read More >
At the 9th annual Dodge Lecture yesterday at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health (video will be posted on CLF’s website soon), world renowned scientist and environmentalist Vandana Shiva stated that the most important issues in sustainable agriculture today are the disappearance of nutrition in food (a major public health concern) and localization of food sovereignty. Much of what passes for ‘food’ today -processed foods heavy with corn and soy byproducts – lacks the nutrition that once was the defining feature of food. The so-called gains of the Green Revolution weren’t so much gains as displacements. More wheat, rice and corn was grown, instead of the varied plethora of grains that had supported humans for centuries with diverse nutrients. Good nutrition in food comes from healthy soil, which is a result of biodiverse and sustainable agriculture practices, not vast monocultures. As we continue to grow chemically dependent monocultures of a few crops, we denude the soil of the organisms that keep it healthy and impart necessary nutrients to our food. Dr. Shiva expands on soil health in her recent book: Soil Not Oil. Read More >