FOOD DESERTS ARE low-income areas in urban or rural locations whose populations lack easy access to fresh fruit, vegetables, and other whole foods, usually because of lack of easy access to supermarkets. In 2010, the USDA reported that 18 million Americans live in food deserts, meaning more than a mile from a supermarket in urban/suburban areas and more than 10 miles in rural areas.
While suburban shoppers have more choices than ever, urban and rural Americans often lack access to quality food choices.
Karen Gonzalez, a church and community engagement specialist in Baltimore, works with immigrant populations. “For our clients, the challenge is that they work a lot, often two jobs, so getting to the grocery store and then cooking is a challenge,” says Gonzalez. “The other issue is that there are only two grocery stores in that part of town, and one of them is in the gentrified district—a Whole Foods. So clients often end up in bodegas or convenience stores, which have limited options and are more expensive.”
Food deserts in rural regions naturally raise different problems than those in urban areas. It is unsurprising that supermarkets are farther from people’s homes, but it can be overlooked that some rural low-income people do not own or have direct access to cars.
“Driving down a two-lane highway in rural Nebraska last spring, I passed a Native American man riding an old bicycle toward the nearby Omaha Indian Reservation,” wrote Steph Larsen on Grist.org. “We were at least seven miles from the nearest town, and he had four grocery bags bulging with food slung over his handlebars as he worked to climb a hill. I’ll bet a week’s worth of groceries that he wasn’t biking for the exercise.”
The metro is crowded today, and the 20-something, well-dressed white man has to stand, one hand holding the bar and the other his smartphone. It’s the end of the day. All the commuters — but one — are turned toward home. The young man’s face, like most of the others, is dulled with exhaustion. No one makes eye contact.
In a seat near the door, one woman sits facing everyone, looking backward. She studies the young man’s face intently, uncomfortably. He shifts. She rearranges the bags at her feet. Her reflection in the window shows an ashy neck above her oversized T-shirt collar. The train hums and clicks through a tunnel. As if in preparation, she takes another sip from the beat-up plastic cup she’s holding.
At last, she raises her voice and asks: “Why are white people so mean?” Boom! The electricity of America’s third rail crackles through the train. Faces fold in like origami or turn blank like a screensaver.
When it comes to homeless youth the facts are simple, services in the City of Chicago are falling far behind the need. A survey of Chicago public school students from 2009/10 revealed 3,682 children who identified as being homeless and in need of shelter. In contrast there are approximately 189 beds for homeless youth (ages 18-25) funded by the City of Chicago. In 2010, 4,775 homeless youth were turned away from youth shelters for lack of room. To be clear, that was 4,775 instances where homeless youth sought shelter and were unable to find it. To date there are only 10 percent of the beds needed to provide safe shelter and supportive programs for the estimated number of Chicago's homeless youth.
We have come to an impasse in the negotiations to raise the debt ceiling because of several conceptual errors in our public discourse. These errors were most glaring in the remarks recently delivered by Speaker of the House John Boehner in his response to President Obama. The largest conceptual error is the idea that the government of a constitutional representative democracy is different from the people. Boehner said, "You know I've always believed the bigger the government, the smaller the people."
What does this mean? The government is composed of the people, and if people are paying attention and voting according to their own interests, the government ought to work toward the happiness of the people. The problem is that too many Americans have bought into this conceptual error that the government is some kind of leviathan, a monster that exists to take away their liberties. This is nonsense. A correction of another conceptual error in Boehner's presentation makes my point.