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  1. #1
    Sophomoric Member Roody's Avatar
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    Food deserts and the carfree

    Many Americans live outside of walking or bicycling distance to supermarkets. Many of them are poor people and live in rural, urban, and suburban areas that are known as food deserts. As an extreme example, until a few years ago, there were literally NO reasonably priced full-service supermarkets within the city limits of Detroit--a city (at the time) of 750,000 people that is more than 10 miles across in every direction (talk about sprawl!).

    Food deserts mostly affect low income people, who are both more likely to live far from markets that sell nutritious food, and more likely to be carfre, meaning it is more difficult to travel to distant food sources. Public health organizations have linked food deserts to obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases linked to poor nutrition.

    "Food deserts are defined as urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options. The lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease."
    --from US Dept. of Agriculture





    Agricultural Marketing Service - Creating Access to Healthy, Affordable Food
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_desert
    A Look Inside Food Deserts | Features | CDC
    Food Deserts - Inter-Faith Food Shuttle







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    Senior Member CliffordK's Avatar
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    The "corner store" closed down about a decade ago.

    My closest grocery store is about 5 miles away.

    It would make for a long walk, but is only a few minutes by bike.

    During the summer months, I can also grow my own food

    I suppose what I dislike about articles like that is that they are very auto-centric, rather than looking for alternatives that will work. I only need food for 1, but there is no reason why one couldn't do family shopping by bike, perhaps a bit more frequently.

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    I have no right to complain; where I live we have excellent supermarkets as well as farm stands, fish markets, meat markets, etc. But I'm aware of the problem; no bicycle tourists can be unaware of food deserts.

    And of course it's not just the availability of a supermarket, but the kinds of foods available there. The more isolated the store, the more likely that its shelves are stocked with products from factories. It can be remarkably difficult to buy what I would consider essential supplies, like yeast.

    Not to change the subject:

    Do those of you who see color better than I (that would be almost all of you) understand this map:

    I find it very puzzling that the map is coded in different colors than the color key.

  4. #4
    Banned I-Like-To-Bike's Avatar
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    Defining a food desert as not living within one mile of a supermarket appears to be an awkward attempt to exaggerate the magnitude of the alleged problem.

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    Quote Originally Posted by I-Like-To-Bike View Post
    Defining a food desert as not living within one mile of a supermarket appears to be an awkward attempt to exaggerate the magnitude of the alleged problem.
    Alleged problem? Food deserts are a very real thing. I understand that for a lot of people on the forums it is hard to understand why someone couldn't just hop on a bike and speed off to the store, but there are a lot of mitigating factors that make riding difficult for those who could most benefit from it.

    Smaller cities in CT are starting to understand the total lack of actual food within their perimeters and are starting to encourage urban farms and farmer's markets. It's been really beneficial, especially because SNAP benefits are worth twice as much to encourage use.

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    Senior Member College3.0's Avatar
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    The model of having goods and services within a reasonable distance that anyone could walk (which I guess is where the 1 mile range comes from) is largely gone in America.

    It's not the distance, or the quality of the food, or whether pedestrian/bicycle/mule/car. It's a symptom the de-valuing of the local community. That is where the magnitude of the problem lies. I have no helpful suggestions regarding how to address such a problem. I think the biggest hurdle to overcome is apathy..... which is more a matter of the heart than of law, infrastructure, economics, socio-political issues.... etc.

    Of course I tend to view things from the perspective of heart issues anyway. YRMV, but the world makes a little more sense to me this way, our outward behaviors that hurt ourselves and others are always symptoms of heart issues that won't go away until the heart issues are answered. Grocery stores don't exist in dense urban areas because there is no social contract between the business and the citizens not to steal the shopping carts or deal drugs in the parking lot. Sadly giving people bikes won't fix that (what a nice world that would be!)

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    Quote Originally Posted by College3.0 View Post
    The model of having goods and services within a reasonable distance that anyone could walk (which I guess is where the 1 mile range comes from) is largely gone in America.

    It's not the distance, or the quality of the food, or whether pedestrian/bicycle/mule/car. It's a symptom the de-valuing of the local community. That is where the magnitude of the problem lies. I have no helpful suggestions regarding how to address such a problem. I think the biggest hurdle to overcome is apathy..... which is more a matter of the heart than of law, infrastructure, economics, socio-political issues.... etc.

    Of course I tend to view things from the perspective of heart issues anyway. YRMV, but the world makes a little more sense to me this way, our outward behaviors that hurt ourselves and others are always symptoms of heart issues that won't go away until the heart issues are answered. Grocery stores don't exist in dense urban areas because there is no social contract between the business and the citizens not to steal the shopping carts or deal drugs in the parking lot. Sadly giving people bikes won't fix that (what a nice world that would be!)
    Or perhaps they don't exist in dense urban areas because there are no economic rewards or social incentives for community-building behavior...drugs and crime are often a result of systematic oppression and lack of access to essentials like education, medical care, and safety.

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    Sophomoric Member Roody's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CliffordK View Post
    I only need food for 1, but there is no reason why one couldn't do family shopping by bike, perhaps a bit more frequently.
    Well, actually many of us, including myself, have health problems that make it impossible to walk or ride to the store. Also, people who both work and raise small children, and/or care for elders, have a difficult time getting to the store if it's a long or difficult round trip.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Roody View Post
    Well, actually many of us, including myself, have health problems that make it impossible to walk or ride to the store. Also, people who both work and raise small children, and/or care for elders, have a difficult time getting to the store if it's a long or difficult round trip.
    +1

  10. #10
    Senior Member College3.0's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Crawford53 View Post
    Or perhaps they don't exist in dense urban areas because there are no economic rewards or social incentives for community-building behavior...drugs and crime are often a result of systematic oppression and lack of access to essentials like education, medical care, and safety.
    Interesting point. However, having to incentivize doing the right thing implies that people don't care about doing the right thing unless there's something in it for them. Which makes it a selfish motivation.... that is what I mean when I say there is always a heart issue.

    You can educate a person's mind, nourish their body, and make them "safe" but if all that is done, and no one trains them up in their heart and their conscience, you still get selfish people making selfish choices that hurt themselves and others. It just manifests differently on the outside.

  11. #11
    Sophomoric Member Roody's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by College3.0 View Post
    The model of having goods and services within a reasonable distance that anyone could walk (which I guess is where the 1 mile range comes from) is largely gone in America.

    It's not the distance, or the quality of the food, or whether pedestrian/bicycle/mule/car. It's a symptom the de-valuing of the local community. That is where the magnitude of the problem lies. I have no helpful suggestions regarding how to address such a problem. I think the biggest hurdle to overcome is apathy..... which is more a matter of the heart than of law, infrastructure, economics, socio-political issues.... etc.

    Of course I tend to view things from the perspective of heart issues anyway. YRMV, but the world makes a little more sense to me this way, our outward behaviors that hurt ourselves and others are always symptoms of heart issues that won't go away until the heart issues are answered. Grocery stores don't exist in dense urban areas because there is no social contract between the business and the citizens not to steal the shopping carts or deal drugs in the parking lot. Sadly giving people bikes won't fix that (what a nice world that would be!)
    That's a very one-sided analysis, IMO. Stores that mainly sell candy, chips, alcohol, tobacco, and drug paraphernalia apparently have no problems doing business in low income neighborhoods. The problem is, these businesses feed ON the people, rather than feeding the people.


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  12. #12
    Sophomoric Member Roody's Avatar
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    Within a mile of my house, there are cell phone stores, drug stores, payday loan stores, and lots of party stores. No food stores that sell fresh produce or other nutritious food items. So I do live in a food desert. I don't know what I would do if I lived alone and was carfree, with my health the way it is. Thankfully I live with my family, and they drive several miles to do our grocery shopping.

    A couple standouts in the 'hood:

    1. A party store near my house that does sell a limited amount of fresh produce. Right now they have bananas, apples, lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, onions and a few other fresh items. Strangely, in the summer they carry organic stuff from local farms! This was set up by a local activist (now city council member) who addressed the food desert issue a few years ago. She set up a partnership between the store and a food advocacy group that's still active.
    2. Rite-aid. this chain has been willing to locate in inner city neighborhoods ever since they came into existence. Their prices and selection seem to be the same as their suburban stores.
    Last edited by Roody; 07-14-15 at 10:20 AM.


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    Banned I-Like-To-Bike's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Crawford53 View Post
    Alleged problem? Food deserts are a very real thing. I understand that for a lot of people on the forums it is hard to understand why someone couldn't just hop on a bike and speed off to the store, but there are a lot of mitigating factors that make riding difficult for those who could most benefit from it.
    There are alternatives to riding a bicycle for a carfree person to shop beyond the arbitrary one mile barrier established in the example. Those without an agenda to promote might even think of one or two. Hint: walking, taxi, friends, relatives, public transportation.

  14. #14
    Senior Member College3.0's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roody View Post
    That's a very one-sided analysis, IMO. Stores that mainly sell candy, chips, alcohol, tobacco, and drug paraphernalia apparently have no problems doing business in low income neighborhoods. The problem is, these businesses feed ON the people, rather than feeding the people.
    I guess I'm not sure I understand your objection, as this point seems to support my observation that those types of stores are not there to reinforce a healthy community or to contribute to public health and well-being. I think we're saying the same thing (unless I've misunderstood, which is possible)

    I am saying that is exactly the problem..... but I am also asking the next question which is *why* would a business exist to enable and promote unhealthy lifestyle choices? I think it's much more likely that improvement would come from an answer (and addressing of the answer) to this question than to the question "how do we get healthy grocery stores into dense urban areas with severe poverty, crime and/or public health problems.

    I live in an urban area too, and there are no grocery stores, post offices, and not many jobs either.
    Last edited by College3.0; 07-14-15 at 10:24 AM. Reason: clarity

  15. #15
    Sophomoric Member Roody's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by I-Like-To-Bike View Post
    There are alternatives to riding a bicycle for a carfree person to shop beyond the arbitrary one mile barrier established in the example. Those without an agenda to promote might even think of one or two. Hint: walking, taxi, friends, relatives, public transportation.
    Yes, I have always done well with these alternatives. However, not all of these are available to all people, depending on location, income level, and other factors.


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  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by I-Like-To-Bike View Post
    Defining a food desert as not living within one mile of a supermarket appears to be an awkward attempt to exaggerate the magnitude of the alleged problem.
    +1 (it happens).

    People keep adjusting the parameters until they can make their case. No car and no supermarket within a mile is ridiculous. It discounts actual residential patterns mass or other transit, or other options. It also discounts things like greengrocers which abound in many poor neighborhoods, and other local enterprises.

    Where I live in Westchester, large numbers don't live within a mile of a super market, and many lack cars. But they shop on their way home from work, or get creative and make the necessary arrangements to shop. Some get together with a neighbor, take the bus to a market district, shop big loads and take a cab home splitting the cost (which is low in the scheme of things).

    IMO folks who rant about so-called food deserts have the cause and effect backward, and underestimate people's ability to cope. They are just making excuses for decisions made for other reasons.



    The above isn't intended to say there are no food deserts, just that they're the exception and not the rule.
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    Sophomoric Member Roody's Avatar
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    Where I live, the nearest major food stores (Kroger, Meijer, and a couple others) are about three miles away. However, the only route there for biking or walking is on a six lane highway that's extremely congested. There are no bike lanes or even sidewalks. Even as an experienced bicyclist, I would dread that trip. Walking is almost as bad. The bus out there is $5 round trip--double price because the suburb chose not to join the regional transit authority. Round trip taxi fare would be over $15.

    The point is, it's not only distances that make a food desert. The poor traveling conditions, caused by inferior car centered design, are another major factor for anybody who is carfree.


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    Senior Member Wilfred Laurier's Avatar
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    Whether or not 'food deserts' are common in the US, or if they are properly defined, misses the fact that distribution of food is a major problem worldwide. In the developed world, of which the US is ostensibly a part, it isn't at a crisis level yet. But it is exactly that problem that allows warlords and despots to have control over people's lives.

    If you want freedom - real freedom - then there has to be a way for people to gain some economic freedom. The government isn't taking your freedom away, the corporations are.

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    Why don't people just move.
    Instead of blaming the government or grocery stores.
    Time for people to take action themselves.
    Stop waiting for other people to solve their problems.

  20. #20
    Senior Member Mobile 155's Avatar
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    The question I have to ask is what causes these deserts? I live on the outskirts of a small community of about 100,000. Big community for me because the one I moved from only had 8000. But even that had a super market.

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    Senior Member Wilfred Laurier's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mtb_addict View Post
    Why don't people just move.
    Instead of blaming the government or grocery stores.
    Time for people to take action themselves.
    Stop waiting for other people to solve their problems.
    Who is blaming the government?

    I blame the Walmartification of North America, as well as car culture, but these are personal and market-based choices and not the responsibility of government.

  22. #22
    Banned I-Like-To-Bike's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mobile 155 View Post
    The question I have to ask is what causes these deserts? I live on the outskirts of a small community of about 100,000. Big community for me because the one I moved from only had 8000. But even that had a super market.
    What causes the extent of this problem? See: Food deserts and the carfree

  23. #23
    Prefers Cicero cooker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wilfred Laurier View Post
    Whether or not 'food deserts' are common in the US, or if they are properly defined, misses the fact that distribution of food is a major problem worldwide. In the developed world, of which the US is ostensibly a part, it isn't at a crisis level yet. But it is exactly that problem that allows warlords and despots to have control over people's lives.

    If you want freedom - real freedom - then there has to be a way for people to gain some economic freedom. The government isn't taking your freedom away, the corporations are.
    I'm waiting for your avatar to be Spockified.
    Last edited by cooker; 07-14-15 at 11:47 AM.

  24. #24
    Sophomoric Member Roody's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mtb_addict View Post
    Why don't people just move.
    Instead of blaming the government or grocery stores.
    Time for people to take action themselves.
    Stop waiting for other people to solve their problems.
    You're right that the blame game isn't going to be useful. But where did you see somebody blaming the government or the grocery stores? If anything, the government and the grocery stores seem to be the ones trying to do something about the problem. The (local) government wants jobs and services to make a better quality of life for all, and the grocery stores want to get more customers.

    I don't see any simple answers, but blame games seem to be the opposite of a solution. Off the top of my head, here are a couple ideas that might help in different locations:

    1. Meals on Wheels and other programs to get both prepared food and groceries delivered to people who can't get out on their own. Include private initiatives like individuals checking on their neighbors, offering rides to the store, offering to pick up items for neighbor when going to the store.
    2. Tax and zoning changes that will make it more profitable to open food stores in food deserts.
    3. Partnerships between local stores and food advocacy groups, farmers markets, and so forth--as happened in my neighborhood--to provide nutritious foods in small local stores.
    4. Getting beyond the car-centered city planning: More complete streets, bike infrastructure, changing transit routes to make carfree shopping easier, etc.


    Do you (or anybody) have other ideas that could be considered?


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    It's a foreign concept to me. I have two supermarkets, including a discount no frills one, exactly a mile from my house, and at half a mile I have an expensive boutique grocer, and a major drugstore chain that now sells fresh produce, presumably to limit loss of customers to Walmart's pharmacy and grocery 3.5 miles away. Even the bus to Walmart is only $2.90 each way and runs frequently. I'll be interested if Wolfchild comments on his more suburban location just outside Toronto, but I'll bet has lots of options too.

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