Watt Watchers of Texas: Texas is Too Good To Waste™

Working Through Food Deserts 

April 4, 2024

The modern-day individual has grown accustomed to the seemingly limitless access to food facilitated by the convenience of grocery stores. This is true, at least for those who reside in suburban or urban neighborhoods characterized by higher income levels and greater purchasing power. From restaurants to specialty grocery stores, those who call these areas home have a variety of fresh produce, meats, and other food essentials at their fingertips year-round. However, amidst this abundance, there exists a stark contrast in surrounding communities, where access to fresh, healthy food is severely limited. These areas, known as food deserts, are a troubling reality for millions of people around the globe. So what characterizes a food desert, and how can those who find themselves in one can improve their situation? 

Food deserts are defined as areas where residents have limited access to affordable and nutritious food, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables and other whole foods. In these communities, grocery stores and supermarkets are scarce, and residents often rely on convenience stores or fast-food outlets for their meals. They can be found in both urban and rural areas. However, it's important to note that they disproportionately affect low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. This lack of access to healthy food options can lead to poor dietary choices, nutritional deficiencies, and a higher risk of diet-related health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

You may wonder why some communities are left out if there is so much food available in surrounding areas. The creation of food deserts is often the result of systemic factors such as economic inequality and urban sprawl. Historically, urban food deserts developed as cities grew and families began to move to the suburbs. In this shift, those moving to the city's outskirts brought with them the money and market needed to bring about the modern grocery stores we see today. Unfortunately, this left those without the means to head out of the city with limited options. 

Likewise, food deserts in rural areas have developed due to a variety of interconnected factors. Geographic isolation plays a significant role, as many rural communities are located far from major urban centers and food distribution hubs, making it challenging to transport fresh produce and groceries to these remote locations. Limited economic resources further exacerbate the problem, as rural areas often have lower average incomes and fewer job opportunities, resulting in decreased purchasing power and a reduced ability to attract grocery stores and supermarkets. Additionally, while these communities would typically grow and provide their own meats and produce, a declining interest in agricultural pursuits juxtaposed with dwindling population rates contributes to the issue. As younger residents often migrate to urban areas in search of better employment and educational opportunities, they leave behind shrinking communities with fewer resources. To make matters more complicated, infrastructure challenges, such as poor transportation networks and limited public transportation options, make it difficult for residents to access grocery stores and farmers' markets, further exacerbating food insecurity in rural areas. 

In the fight against food deserts and in the pursuit of food equity, it's vital to deploy a range of strategies across local, regional, and national levels. This entails launching initiatives to draw grocery stores and farmers' markets into underserved communities, enhancing access to public transportation, and offering financial incentives to encourage businesses to invest in these areas. Additionally, community gardens and urban farming projects emerge as pivotal solutions, significantly boosting access to fresh produce and empowering residents to reclaim control over their food supply.

Ultimately, addressing food deserts requires a holistic approach that recognizes the interconnectedness of food, energy, and daily habits. Sustainable food systems are essential not only for ensuring that everyone has access to nutritious food but also for reducing the environmental impact of food production and distribution. By working together to create more equitable food systems, we can ensure that food deserts do not become the norm for people around the globe. Through collective action and a commitment to change, we can build healthier, more resilient communities where everyone has access to the food they need to thrive. If you want to discover more fun energy, food, and water-related activities, visit The Watt Watchers of Texas today!

Time: 2 to 3 hours

Problem Statement:

Students should develop their own definition for the term food desert based on academic literature, contemporary discourse, and their own experiences. Encourage them to evaluate the article exploring food resources linked in the Resources section and other reputable sources. Students should also create a detailed map of food resources in their area, classified by type and annotated with accessibility and time constraints. Then, they should evaluate whether their neighborhood or district is a food desert. How does the students' map compare with the Food Access Research Atlas?

To Consider:

Types of food stores: convenience stores, delicatessens, farmer’s markets, supermarkets, fast-food restaurants, and other restaurantsAccessibility: private car, streets with sidewalks, public transportation (light rail, bus, metro/subway)Time: hours of operation, proximity to schools/work, connectivity with public transit.

Assessment Criteria:

Definition: Excellent student work will align closely with “Areas where low-income people have poor access to vegetables, fruits, and other whole foods.” There may be variation in student definitions based on nuances in urban/rural landscapes, access to different kids of foods, or other personal factors. If the definition is broader or more specific, students should provide ample evidence from citations or personal experience that demonstrate that they understand the concept and that they have applied the concept to a real-life use case.Map: Excellent maps will consider all of the different confirmed and possible food stores in a location, and students will research and present accurate information regarding accessibility and time constraints for these resources. Students should use an excerpt of a digital map (such as Google Maps) or a copy or traced image of a physical map from an atlas in order to present an accurate visualization of the concept.
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