Solving the Problem of Food Deserts in Our Communities

When I was a child growing up, I never thought much about the food my parents put on our table. My mother’s generation was among the first to begin serving packaged foods to their families and slowly but surely, fresh produce, including fruits and vegetables, were shunned in favor of canned and frozen products. Today, however, our focus has come full circle and I know the value of eating fresh, whole foods.

I was interested to read recently that our nation of plenty is in the midst of an actual food crisis. More than 29 million people in America don’t have access to healthy food options. That’s because they live in what the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has termed “food deserts,” or areas without grocery stores.

For those of us who live in neighborhoods with large, sprawling marketplace style grocery stores, it’s hard to imagine that there are many people that find it easier to locate a can of grape soda in their neighborhoods than it is a bunch of grapes.

What I remember from my childhood isn’t just the macaroni and cheese from a box, but also the warmth of freshly baked bread and the crisp sweetness of a red apple. I learned early on that we don’t just eat healthy food because we know it’s good for us, we eat it because it makes us feel good as well.

But families who live in communities where they can’t find a bag of apples or even a head of lettuce are at greater risk of becoming overweight. The latest studies actually show that the closer we live to neighborhood supermarkets, the more likely we are to have healthier lives and lower body weights.

I admit that before I learned about America’s “food deserts,” I never dreamed they had such a far-ranging impact on people’s lives. As large grocery stores close and pull out of neighborhoods, more and more Americans lose access to basic healthy foods.

Imagine for a moment how difficult it would be if you lived in a neighborhood that didn’t have a major supermarket. Where would you go to get fresh milk and dairy products? Would you continue to give your family fresh produce and would you worry about your children’s nutrition? What would be in store for you and your family if you couldn’t afford to move?

<<Related: Ebeid Institute Brings Groceries, Resources to Uptown Toledo>>

Right now in many places across the country, public and private partnerships are supporting healthy food financing and they are working to bring full service grocery stores and supermarkets back to communities that need them the most. The American Heart Association is working with the Food Trust and public sector sponsors to secure grants through the State of Ohio to help establish or revitalize supermarkets and corner stores in underserved communities. You can help in this effort by urging your representative to support healthy food financing.


Beth professional highBeth Langefels has been the communications director for the Miami Valley and Northwest Ohio Divisions of the American Heart and American Stroke Associations since 2006. She began her 25 year career in communications, public relations and marketing with a position in community relations at the Dayton Metro Library. She has worked for several prominent nonprofits in the community, including Hospice of Dayton, The Girl Scouts of Western Ohio, The Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra and SAFY.