Forever Wandering in a (Food) Desert?



Many of us take grocery stores for granted. We see them on our commutes home or we live within an easy walk or drive and also likely have a place near our workplaces that we can run to as well.

In some areas, this is not the case. A food desert is an area where at least 1/3 of the area’s residents are over a mile from the grocery store, and over 20% live below the poverty line. As grocery stores start to make smaller profits, they become more likely to leave those areas, leaving individuals with fewer resources for healthy food options. Individuals also have to travel for longer distances in order to get the food that they need, making it more challenging to access healthy foods. When grocery stores close, the closings can turn the surrounding area into a food desert.

In the most food-insecure municipality in the US – Greensboro-High Point, North Carolina – there are 17 unique food deserts, meaning that those in Greensboro are never far away from a food desert. In the county where the municipalities are located, 12% of convenience stores in food deserts carried fresh vegetables. Additionally, for the families that live over a mile from a grocery store, 42% of them do not have a vehicle to use to go buy the food.

The USDA has a map that can help research where food deserts are located throughout the country. Approximately 23.5 million people live in food deserts, and about 2.3 million Americans live in rural, low-income areas that are over 10 miles from a supermarket, making it even harder for them to get the food and nutrition that they need. Those living in areas with poorer socioeconomic statuses have an increased chance of exposure to fast food than those in other industries, making it more challenging for them to access healthy foods.

As Reform Jews, we have an obligation to advocate for those who are hungry. Deuteronomy 15:7-10 elaborates on our commitment to helping those in need. The text states, “If there is among you a poor man, one of your brethren…you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him, and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.” Our tradition is explicit in commanding that we feed the hungry, and we must work to make that a reality. We need to act to ensure that no one suffers from a lack of food or nourishment in today’s society.

We need to support child hunger programs that can provide food even when food deserts cannot. Though child nutrition programs like the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, already exist, these programs need to be strengthened. When a child doesn’t have enough food to eat, they cannot focus as well in school, leading to lower performance. Kids experiencing hunger thus are kept in a cycle of poverty, making it hard for them to advance in society. Three out of four public school teachers say that students regularly come to school hungry. Breakfast is connected to benefits in the classroom: a majority of teachers see students paying better attention in class and having improved attendance.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 – which includes programs such as the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programsthe Summer Food Service Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) – will sunset in September 2015. It is essential that these programs stay funded so that children can get the support that they need.  Urge your Members of Congress to fund important child nutrition programs today!

Check out the RAC’s economic justice page to learn more.

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Melanie Fineman

About Melanie Fineman

Melanie Fineman is a 2014-2015 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the RAC. She graduated from Brown University in 2014 and is originally from Newton, Massachusetts, where she is a member of Temple Shalom of Newton.

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