Food Deserts

This post started out as a post about the healthy, protein-packed dinner we had on a rainy Monday night. But instead, I am going to give you the thoughts going through my head as I prepared dinner.

It all started when I went to reach for a packet of green onions to make this salmon salad. You see, we had gone grocery shopping locally (as in at Shaw’s in Dorchester, not local food, not by any means) over the weekend, both to save time and to avoid traveling across the city on a summer weekend. As overpriced as it is, our local Shaw’s is within walking distance so sometimes we cough up the money just to save ourselves some time. The green onions were something like $4 for a little bag, and a day and a half after purchase they were going bad. The next day I went to cook the corn I bought. Tiny kernels covered in specks of mold.  Just like the corn and green onions, the spinach we bought, black and rotten two days after purchase, the cabbage, so wilted that I had to peel half the layers away until I got to something edible.
As I thought about just how much money I had spent to get almost nothing, I thought back to my shopping experience.  I needed parsley and cilantro, but when I reached the herbs, they were sitting in at least four inches of water, slumped over, decayed.

Then it sort of hit me. At least 75% of the time, if not more, we take advantage of the luxury of having a car and being able to pay for the gas and generally having free time on weekends to drive from Dorchester to CAMBRIDGE to go grocery shopping. It’s cheaper. The produce is rakes fresher, more diverse, and generally more available. In fact, since living in Dorchester for over five years, I have noticed (and this is just by eyeing things, not by doing an actual study), that it is cheaper to grocery shop just about everywhere else. Gas? Also much cheaper. Suddenly, this made a lot more sense:

“We can give people all the information and advice in the world about healthy eating and exercise, but if parents can’t buy the food they need to prepare those meals because their only options for groceries are the gas station or the local minimart, then all that is just talk. Let’s Move is about giving parents real choices about the food their kids are eating, and today’s announcement means that more parents will have a fresh food retailer right in their community – a place that sells healthy food, at reasonable prices, so they can feed their families the way they want.”

I had listened to Michelle Obama’s speech last week, but the concept of food desert hadn’t really hit me until that moment. Sure, the Stop & Shop in South Bay and the Shaw’s near us have plenty of food. But is any of the good stuff ever affordable? And what to make of the fact that the cheap produce shop that briefly sat at the end of our street slowly became filled less with fruit and more with (multiple aisles of) giant bottles of fluorescent soda, pork rinds, and other absolute junk before it eventually went quiet, boarded up, almost abandoned.

What does it say that we avoid shopping at these places at almost all costs? And what does it say for the people whose means only allow them to shop in these stores?

I was heartened, just the next day, to read about efforts to bring farmers markets to Dorchester. I think farmers markets accepting WIC and other assistance for fresh food are a great first step.

With a  First Lady and administration that believe in food as a form of prevention, perhaps there’s hope for more food equality and fewer incidences of diabetes and obesity in our distant future.

What do you think?


Edited to add this unfortunate article from about the rise of hungry and dangerously thin children. If politicians can raise millions of dollars to sling mud at each other, we should be able to provide basic food needs for children in this country.

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Tags: Food, politics

  1. Emily @ A Cambridge Story’s avatar

    Really good food for thought, Meghan! I didn’t realize stores in Dorchester were that much more expensive. It is really nice to see all the farmers markets in Cambridge accept WIC etc. (Then again, I also just saw someone use food stamps at a Rite Aid to purchase chips and ice cream….)


  2. Clarice’s avatar

    Food is such an interesting thing here in America, it’s everywhere but not always quality. I shudder to think how/what my family would have eaten without WIC when we were all little kids. At the very least, we were provided with milk, cheese, and cereal. I don’t think the average middle class American understands the many factors behind what people of lower socio-economic statuses eat. I think it’s great that the FLOTUS has made this such a passion during her time in the White House.


  3. MelissaNibbles’s avatar

    I agree with the First Lady. In a lot of states, Walmart is the only place where people can shop. If they can get healthy food there, great! It reminds me of something Kurt Cobain said when his fans were in an uproar that they let Walmart sell Nirvana cds. He said that if the only place that his fans in the middle of nowhere have to shop is Walmart, then he’d let them sell his cds. Those weren’t his exact words, but that was the gist of it.


  4. Megan’s avatar

    I think I take it for granted that I can get to a farmers market within walking distance any day of the week. Cambridge and Somerville are so good about their markets, and it’s hard to realize that other places aren’t. I hope Dorchester does get farmers markets soon, and I really hope this food desert problem is on the mend. It’s great to have the First Lady on the case.


  5. Daisy’s avatar

    this was so insightful, thoughtful and well written. You bring up some great points. I think its disheartening a lof of these issue we face.


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