Devil’s (Food Cake) Advovate

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

Twinkie the Kid in Stew Leonard’s, Danbury(ish), CT. He sings and dances if you press the button.

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.

Segue… here.

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.

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5 Responses to Devil’s (Food Cake) Advovate

  1. tanyamh says:

    I remember seeing that article a while back too about the “junk food diet”, and it is important to keep total calories in mind in terms of weight. However, weight is not an indicator of appropriate macro/micronutrient intake.

    And hey, let’s not put out the idea of commercials for green peppers. I can’t have demand increasing and driving up prices…my pepper habit is hard to fund as is!

  2. Jack Whitmore says:

    Would Kroger exist if there were true Food Oases?

  3. Kathy says:

    First….I really like your banner….where’d you get the graphic?

    Second, I confess, most of what I eat is out of a box too. I am a sugar and Diet Coke (yes, I get the absurdity) junkie and feel perpetually guilty about it. But, you’re right. I always have the option of making healthy selections and going to the store whenever I want to, unlike so many other people.

    I was working with a poverty group in Florida and interviewed a woman who has 5 kids, the oldest in 8th grade. They don’t have a car or money for a cab, so she has to go to the store by bus. The problem, though, is that there is limited weekend service, so when she needs to get groceries, she pulls her oldest son out of school so that he can help her carry the bags on the bus.

    Imagine that choice: eating or learning….one or the other. Wrong on so very many levels.

    • frydrykd says:

      Ack! I don’t recall where my image came from. I seem to live on 100 metalworking/metallurgy websites and I’m sure it came from something a user published. I will hunt him down!

      The story of the young student you mentioned is incredibly disheartening. It seems like, if they’re from a low income area and attend a school representative of that demographic, so much could be done. These students are going from school to home every day – could we not set up some sort of market at that school? Instead of having the child skip school to get food make it part of his school experience.

      There are a thousand problems and for each one a hundred ill-designed or non-feasible solutions… we somehow need to strike the right ones. I’m certainly no expert but maybe these fresh takes from folks like us who aren’t jaded to the system could actually make a difference.

  4. Ioana says:

    I just read a 2009 article by Larsen and Gilliland in the Food and Place journal and remembered your post and the talks we had in class on food deserts. The article shows the major impacts that introducing a new retailer (i.e. farmers’ market) in an area previously considered a food desert can have. Title is “A farmers’ market in a food desert: Evaluating impacts on the price and availability of healthy food”. Give it a shot if you have some time..

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