Navigating the “Food Desert”

updated Feb. 11, 2019

Do you live in a food desert? It might be worth looking into. Defined as an area where fresh produce grocery stores are far and few in between, food deserts are inching their way into the national spotlight as more U.S. cities tackle this growing problem. While rural areas are affected by a smaller supply of fresh produce, large cities like New York and Los Angeles also contain food deserts because traditional grocery chains didn’t want to go there. Even some suburbs, where housing is becoming more reasonably priced, have outdated public transportation models that make grocery shopping difficult for many. With a surplus of fast-food and restaurants, it’s easy to see how eating healthier becomes a challenge (such an abundance of unhealthy options becomes a problem all its own, a food swamp).

It’s no surprise the CDC has ramped up its efforts to educate and inform people about the implications of living in a food desert. They back the conclusion that people in food deserts lack the availability of fresh produce to make healthy choices.

As you may know, Blue Zones believes in creating environments to help people make healthier choices and cities across the country are starting to understand.

Reuters reported that Walmart planned to open 275-300 new stores that serve food desert areas by 2016, while Supervalu has plans to open 250 stores in the next five years. As Americans start to live healthier lives, the fundamentals of a basic diet — fresh vegetables, fruits and some meat are the building block upon which a happier, longer life can be formed.

So how can you get out of the food desert and ensure that you’re making the right choices? Here are some tips to live longer, better:

1. Support the economic theory of supply and demand that controls prices.

Always buy fresh vegetables and produce.

2. Ask your neighborhood convenience store, gas station or other “non-mainstream” grocery store to provide more fresh or healthy options.

Then, make sure to keep buying those products to keep them on the shelves.

3. Consider planting and growing your own fresh produce.

If space is an issue, tomatoes, basil, peppers and peas do well in small containers. Even carrots, cucumbers and summer squash can be grown in containers. See the National Gardening Association website for ideas.

4. Support community initiatives that bring healthy food to neighborhoods that need it, including transportation upgrades.

This could be done by a simple phone call to your local representative.

5. Help others in your community.

Have a neighbor with limited access to transportation? Offer to bring them with you to the grocery store when you shop.

6. Combine movement with healthy eating.

Ride your bike or walk to your nearest grocery store!

7. Share your dietary knowledge and healthy lifestyle with others.

Maybe your choices will influence them.

Solving the issue of food deserts is a multidimensional problem, fraught with economic, social, and cultural challenges. Making an effort, even if its once a week, to find fresh ingredients for a home cooked meal can go a long way in changing your eating habits over time.

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