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Food security conference to take on SA's food deserts

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

Food activist and author Mark Winne

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How do you define “food desert”?

There's that term, and it's sort of disparaging, but “food desert” means a place where people don't have easy access to affordable healthy supermarkets of any kind. A sort of follow up to that is a term called “food swamp,” where not only do you not have access to healthy fruits and vegetables, you have way too much access to fast food and convenience food. So, you know, neighborhoods get filled with McDonald’s and Burger King and Taco Bell and everything else. And that's sort of the problem too. The rise of obesity, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, is driven at least in part by the lack of access to healthy food but also the abundance of unhealthy food.

The USDA has its own measure, and based on that measure it's found that some 23 million people in the U.S. live in so-called food deserts. And the vast majority of those are lower income.

Is the growing focus on organic, “buy local” trickling down to low-income, disenfranchised communities that need healthy food?

Well, I don't think it's only trickling down. I think in some cases it's trickling up. I see more people  becoming more engaged around food in low-income communities in a variety of ways. Urban gardening is perhaps one of the more visible ways disadvantaged people are trying to make a claim here. We're seeing gardens spring up in places like Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, parts of cities that are economically and socially challenged. People are saying, “What can I do where I live?” Well, one of the things is get organized and grow some food. Or figure out a way to get a farmers market in the neighborhood. Or we can work together to try to bring a super market into the neighborhood or some type of other food source. Just because people live in a poor neighborhood, just because they may be black or Hispanic doesn't mean they should be getting substandard food. There are clearly health disparities that are very much associated with racial status, with people being lower income and living in neighborhoods that are what we call food deserts and places that just don't have good sources of healthy food.

Mark Winne will speak at St. Mark's Episcopal Church Wednesday May 9 at 7 pm, 315 East Pecan. For more info, call 226-2426.

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