June 14th, 2010

For Alabamians living in the inner city, getting to a place to buy fresh food can be a challenge. The Birmingham News covered this problem yesterday: “For Birmingham’s inner-city dwellers, fresh food is hard to find close to home.”

“Food deserts have become a hot topic around the country, with health and policy experts seeing them as a contributor to the epidemic of obesity and its accompanying health problems, including high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes.”

The issue for many food-insecure Alabamians is not that they cannot afford enough food: it is that they cannot access fresh, healthy food. Some urban or rural dwellers – often lower-income families – may not have a decent food source in the area, and many lack the ability to travel long distances for food. Grocery stores serving these communities may not offer high-quality food.

“Glen Ford, a Minnesota entrepreneur who is working to build a chain of inner-city grocery stores that provide affordable and healthy foods, said chain retailers often sell their low-quality products in poor neighborhoods, often at high prices.”

There are many reasons our high poverty rate is tied to obesity and diabetes. Low-income parents and individuals may work multiple jobs at odd hours. They may lack reliable transportation to and from food sources. Fast food, prepared foods, and junk foods are cheap, accessible, and less labor-intensive than homemade, fresh meals. It is this combo of cheap, fast, and filling that is irresistable for the time- and cash-strapped families.

Food deserts are just one important part of this war on obesity, but it is an important part; if Alabamians lack healthier food alternatives, there is even less possibility of changing ingrained habits.

First Lady Michelle Obama often talks about Food Deserts as part of her Let’s Move campaign to end childhood obesity.

Currently, Main Street Birmingham is doing a study of Food Deserts in the Birmingham area to help connect grocers to under-served, inner-city communities. Live in Greater Birmingham? Take this surveyfrom Main Street’s Urban Food Project to help measure food access and food deserts in the Birmingham area. Connecting providers to consumers is one important way to replenish our food deserts.

Interested in discussing these and other problems? Join us June 22 for our Mobile Hunger Workshop, where we will discuss solutions to our state’s systemic food problems. Register today!

Solutions we’ll be talking about:

Community gardens and urban farming

– Food ministries, such as Angel Food

Patronizing your local Farmer’s Market

-Reforming school lunches

-Teaching kids to grow, enjoy and prepare food with Farm to Table programs

Posted by Robyn Hyden