Feed Your Neighbor

I didn’t know anything about food deserts. I didn’t understand that that was a thing. I only knew that my students ate a lot of cheetos. Especially the hot ones. Especially for breakfast. That didn’t make any sense to me.

I didn’t know anything about food deserts, but I did know that when I went to the gas station, my students asked me if I was going to the store. I remember thinking that was weird.

Then my car broke down and I started taking the bus, and it all suddenl. Why a person wouy became clear. I would buy food at a gas station instead of taking two buses and a train to get to the most MARTA accessible grocery store. How grocery shopping that way is pretty much an all day endeavor and you had better be fully-able-bodied or you aren’t going to be able to get your groceries all the way home.

But I still bristled when my students asked me if I was going to the store. No. The gas station is not the store. Except it was, for them anyway.

I don’t really have any answers. Just a lot more understanding. I grew up and only knew how to cook what my mother cooked too. But my mother had access to a real grocery store. So I knew how to cook what came out of a grocery store and not a gas station. We had access to grocery stores because it was profitable to put grocery stores in our neighborhood. The pendulum swings the other way too. Not profitable turns into no access turns into the gas station functioning as a store and virtually no vegetables in your diet.

I didn’t know that it was a called a food desert, but I did understand all my students had for breakfast was hot cheetos.  I used to blame them, think they should know better. Now I know better. Everyone is usually making the best choices they know how.

I’m hosting the spirit of the poor link up. We are focusing on access to food. If you don’t know much about it, start here and then let me know what you think by linking up below!

10 thoughts on “Feed Your Neighbor

  1. Grocery stores are profitable in poor neighborhoods too. City planners often take them out of neighborhoods and or do not build them in neighborhoods that they want to segregate. Most people won’t use that term “segregate” as our leaders are not supposed to do that anymore on purpose. So it’s insidious. The toll of not giving proper access to and feeding people well, is hugely expense. Bus routes are notoriously segregated too. This practice ensures certain kinds of “low level” service workers. Writing your county and city officials as well as state officials is one way to begin. Send your articles to your newspapers too and create a discussion and need for grocery stores in certain areas of your town or city that you believe are being neglected. Plant community gardens in the areas your students live or on campus so they can take produce home.

  2. It was pretty eye opening for me when I first learned about food deserts. It’s an unfortunate slippery slope from there… but there are unique and awesome solutions! My wife and I helped volunteer at (and start) the first community garden in a food desert in Las Vegas… it’s been going strong and doing amazing things for the community there. Maybe you can do something similar at your school/community/neighborhood? http://vegasroots.org/

    Also, if you want to go further down the rabbit hole, a couple of years ago I vented my frustration over this… with hopefully some solutions: http://whatsmyage.wordpress.com/2012/09/09/what-choices-do-i-have/

    Finally, in 2012 the non-profit I work for published a journal focused on Food Sustainability. It’s free if you want to check it out: http://ipjc.org/journal/AMOSFall12.pdf

    Keep on writing… I love that I stumbled upon you blog!

  3. Abby, Thank you so much for this wonderful addition to our conversation. The image of a gas station as the source of food is SO strikingly wrong. I like what Justin has to add about community gardens in food desert neighborhoods. I know of some here in Boston, and believe it’s extremely important work. I’m thinking of adding a post about growing food – getting back to our roots – not just adjusting the “market” system. But I do want to thank you for this contribution.

  4. As I read the new comments, I just wanted to emphasize, as people jump on the community garden band wagon which I endorse wholeheartedly, don’t forget to address the political aspects. We need to actually place grocery stores in poor neighborhoods. Because how much time do people have to garden if they are working and raising kids? And people need their dignity, so it shouldn’t all be charity based, what feeds them. The public transportation and grocery store access in communities, as you highlighted, need to be addressed by our political and business leaders, just as schools and teachers need more of our support. Again, thank you for providing this topic and forum.

    • Yes! Great points. Community gardens can be wonderful and powerful, but this is only when residents actually have the time to learn how to garden and practice it. Many families in my city (Chicago) who would most benefit from community gardens are balancing 2-3 jobs in different locations of the city. Though, on the other end: there are also many parents, young adults, and youth who are struggling to find work in the first place, so they would actually benefit from an accessible community garden financially and communally, as well as gain a sense of ownership if they had some opportunities to participate in the creative process of gardening. (I think community gardens can be particularly wonderful for youth and young adults who do not have jobs in the city, especially when they don’t have access to other programs that are positive. If done well, these gardens can provide caring communities, a sense of empowerment, something positive in which they can spend their time, and opportunities for our young people to participate in the creative process and build their sense of self-worth.)

      I agree with you, Katherine: this is such a complex situation, and we must work to address these issues at all levels: including working to meet the daily needs of individuals and families (providing more healthy foods that are accessible and AFFORDABLE), finding creative options for families to experience both community and have the opportunities to produce and access healthy and affordable foods (through community gardens, etc), AND working to fight the “root” causes of such injustice. (Why are there food deserts in the first place? Why aren’t the prices of healthy foods affordable to many families? Why are working families still unable to pay for food? – Are their wages livable? – How is it that the U.S. is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and yet there are so many families who cannot even afford to feed themselves?) As Mikka McCracken (at ELCA World Hunger) just said this weekend at the ELCA Metro Chicago Synod Assembly: we need to be asking the question: “What are the systems that keep the poor poor and the rich rich?” These are all connected and intertwined. Thank you for your contributions to this discussion. Very important and complex issues that must be addressed on all levels.

      • Yes! Systems keep the poor poor. I would agree about time as well; in my community people either work 2-3 jobs (and thus have no time) OR they don’t work at all but may not have the access to space. For folks who are homeless, they have so much difficulty just finding a place to sleep by the river for more than one night. I wonder if there is a way to connect land and people?
        I think to do so, though, we need to ask as a community why these problems exist. Why people are going hungry, why there are no jobs–or poorly paying ones, why good food is unavailable or unaffordable. And we also need to ask, as a community, how the community might gain more access to land and space in order to perhaps partly feed itself. I think it has to be a collective effort.

  5. Pingback: FOOD | Newell Hendricks

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