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The Grocery Gap
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The Grocery gap has widened over the years especially in low income neighborhoods. It is no longer easy to access healthy, nutritious and affordable food. The once thriving grocery businesses and markets have been replaced by fast foods and convenience stores that sell foods high in sugar and unprocessed fats. Supermarkets or grocery stores are no longer available for low income communities’ neighborhoods to buy healthy foods. Supermarkets disappeared from urban centers during the 1960s and 1970s following the civil disturbances when the white middle class families moved to the suburbs. Grocers changed their business strategy and moved to the surburbs in order to meet the needs of the surburbians.
They built large stores and developed chain wide contracts with suppliers to supply the stores with foods that suit their needs leaving the city with no supermarkets or grocery stores. Over the years however, there has been significant growth in grocery stores, farmers’ markets, foods stands and community supported agriculture programs although they are majorly confined to limited areas mostly among middle class neighborhoods creating a grocery gap between the middle class and the low income communities and rural areas.
Lack of supermarkets has been linked to lack of access to healthy foods in low income neighborhoods, communities of color and rural areas. They provide an easy access to healthy nutritious and affordable foodstuffs as compared to other types of food outlets such as convenience stores. Low income communities, communities of color have access to a fewer supermarkets and more convenience stores and are therefore prone to various diseases including obesity, cancer or diabetes. According to a research carried out by U.S Department of Agriculture’s 2009 on food deserts, 23.5 million people cannot access a supermarket within one mile of their home.
There have also been disparities in relation to distribution of supermarkets by race and income with studies showing that supermarkets in lower income neighborhoods and communities of color are less likely to stock healthy foods and in most cases the prices are often high as compared to areas dominated by white communities. Prices of foods over the last several decades have either increased or decreased depending on the kind of food. For instance, unhealthy foods like sodas, butter and beer have decreased in pricing while those of healthy foods like oranges or fish have increased in prices. As result of this low income communities are not able to access healthy foods leading to a number of health issues e.g. obesity especially among children who lack proper diet and are used to eating junk foods from the ast foods restaurants.
The lack of supermarkets and others fresh food stands has also affected local economic development as well as social equity. Policies have therefore been put in place both at local level and national level to ensure that food desserts (areas that lack access to healthy foods) have access to fresh healthy foods. Examples of some strategies implemented include the opening of many supermarkets and grocery stores and making sure they are well stocked with fresh produce. Additionally, people are encouraged to grow food locally in their backyards, in community gardens as well as participate in large scale urban agriculture.
Communities in food deserts areas also lack access to healthy foods due to lack of transportation. By improving transportation through evaluation of the existing routes and bus stops as well as co-ordination of bus routes, can go a long way in to ensuring people have access to farmers markets and grocery stores. Farmers and retailers could also organize mobile markets and grocery deliveries so as to improve access to healthy foods. Long term policies should be implemented which should involve the collaboration of the government, communities and retailers.
Strategies should be laid out to identifying the areas that lack access to healthy foods, understand the economic impact caused by lack of supermarkets, grocery store and farmer’s markets to local communities and also try to understand the regional food systems. Once all these are identified the government should provide the resources necessary to solve this problem. Different cities have implemented different tools in their efforts to sensitize people on the benefits of eating healthy diet as well as promote healthy food retail. Such tools include zoning, economic development and redevelopment, land use planning and financial assistance.
In Pennsylvania for instance fresh food financing initiative has helped in the development of supermarkets as well as other fresh foods outlets in more than 78 undeserved food areas creating job and increasing the access of healthy foods to the people. Such policies have also been duplicated in other cities as well. The creation of supermarkets and other fresh farm stands not only improve the access of fresh foods but also it helps in the creation of jobs. In Pennsylvania, the fresh food financing initiative helped retain and created over 4,860 jobs throughout the state which were all occupied by local residents living within three miles from the supermarket. The impact of new supermarket in an undeserved area also brings with it local economic development, helps improve the perception that urban areas that are economically distressed are unsafe for business and also creates viability in the commercial real estate business. When a new supermarket is opened in an area, neighborhood pricing values of houses tend to increase by a high margin.
Government subsidies is a form of financial support given by the government on some foods to help lower down the cost of living especially in food deserts and also financial support to encourage farm production and Self reliance in food production. The Government pays around 20 billion per year to farmers in direct subsidies. The Subsidy programs offer financial support to farmers and gives them extra money for their crops and guarantees a price floor for their products. Some of the products that are subsidized are corn and wheat. Government subsidies however have negative effects to both the consumers and the market. Low quality of food is produced by producers who view this as an opportunity to make money and export it elsewhere in the world.
The farmers’ subsidy guarantees a minimum payment for such food as corn, rice and soy beans but by so doing there is a high likelihood of over production of food that decreases the market price and causes surpluses that can easily be sold to developing countries at a cheaper rate. On a global scale, farmers are in the developing countries are not able to grow their own food and compete effectively since multi national companies are able to supply food at a cheaper cost to these countries.
Obesity and other lifestyle diseases are often caused by changes in the diet e.g. overeating, eating wrong foods and the lack of exercises. Parks help in providing an environment for kids to play and exercise. Constant physical activity and eating healthy diet helps in the prevention of obesity, cancer, diabetes diseases which according to statistics have risen over the last several decades due to changes in lifestyle behaviors. Fresh food prices are normally high than unhealthy foods but it’s important to consider the health benefits of food when buying them.
Junk food only adds calories to our bodies which in turn cause diseases that can easily be avoided by making the right choices when purchasing food. It is also important to exercise regularly to avoid the accumulation of body fats in the body that could otherwise end up clogging the arteries and causes heart diseases among other diseases. The Government should implement more programs to ensure all Americans access healthy food and also sensitize the need of eating healthy food especially in young children whose high rate of obesity has increased over the years. Schools and parents should also encourage children to exercise often for healthy and fit bodies.