We talked last night more about Food Deserts and how they are affecting the folks who live across those proverbial train tracks from the upper echelons of society. For those people reading this (to my adoring fans: hello!) who might not know what a food desert is, the concept is pretty simple.
There are individuals (families, communities, neighborhoods) that don’t have easy access to food. They’re without a car so driving to the nearest grocery store is impossible. They may be far from public transportation so even taking a bus is out of the question. If they do have access to public transit it’s nearly impossible to bring home a week’s worth of groceries in a single trip. They live in a proverbial “food desert” where instead of a scarcity of rain there is a scarcity of healthy food options.
“How do they eat?” you may be wondering. 7-11. Or, you know, something similar. Fresh fruit and healthy options simply aren’t available. Often “fresh” items are very close to their expiration date. These underprivileged people are malnourished from eating Twinkies, say.
But wait. One can LOSE weight when eating Twinkies alone. Shed pounds. Increase good cholesterol and decrease the bad. At least according to Mark Haub, a prof at Kansas State
University. This is a half-truth, though. He didn’t only eat Twinkies. “To add variety in his steady stream of Hostess and Little Debbie snacks, Haub munched on Doritos chips, sugary cereals and Oreos, too.” 7-11 junk.
I won’t pretend to understand the jargon in the article about triglycerides and obesity, antioxidants or glucose, but it seems like there is a way around this: Education. There appears to be nothing wrong with eating processed snacks so long as it’s in moderation. Professor Haub took in less calories than than he burned and hence he lost weight. The lost weight lead to those increased positive health markers, an overall benefit. Is it possible, in lieu of massive infrastructure changes, to educate the inhabitants of a food desert?
Community gardens. Farmers markets. Health education in public schools. Co-op programs. Heck, let’s serve nutritious meals to students in schools such that they gain a taste for carrots and apples, take an interest in their growth, and plant something in their yard.
I think that most of us live in something called “Food Oases.” (I thought I was clever when I came up with that but apparently it’s everywhere already. So much for that!) Food is plentiful and everywhere. I know I can drive to the store and get whatever I please. Even if I couldn’t the buses come often enough and are very convenient such that I could have fresh food every day if I pleased. But what I buy at these stores, what my contemporaries purchase, and what receives the largest advertising budget is the same junk 7-11 food from above! In a world chock full of GOOD FOOD, we all eat crap.
So instead, I posit a “Food Mirage.” It appears that we privileged few are surrounded by healthy options that we are free to purchase and consume. The produce section of my local Kroger is large, well kept, and stocked every day. If I truly lived in a Food Oasis I’d walk out of Kroger with bags laden with fresh meat and vegetables. Instead I’d say most of what I consume comes in a box. I also think our Hidden Brain comes into play here – we’re conditioned to find specific things delicious. Heck, when was the last time you saw a commercial for a bell pepper? Back to Professor Haub:
Before his Twinkie diet, he tried to eat a healthy diet that included whole grains, dietary fiber, berries and bananas, vegetables and occasional treats like pizza.
“There seems to be a disconnect between eating healthy and being healthy,” Haub said. “It may not be the same. I was eating healthier, but I wasn’t healthy. I was eating too much.”
Even with the best intentions, plentiful food, and a knowledge of what’s healthy and what’s not, many of us still manage to lead unhealthy edible lifestyles. So while Food Deserts do need to be fixed and remedied there remains a MASSIVE portion of our community/country that needs to realize that what we’re in is a Food Mirage, not the perfect Food Oasis.