As Columbus grows and develops, so too does it’s widening “food deserts”.
I still remember hearing the term for the first time. I swirled it around my mouth a bit, tasted it. It seemed a pretty appropriate expression.”Food desert”. It’s defined as “an urban area in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food.” I felt familiar enough with the concept. You can find a corner store every six feet on the East side, but an affordable grocer is damn near impossible.
It’s easier to get a bag of chips, a candy bar, and a bottle of Faygo and call it a late lunch. Sure, fresh produce or anything with actual nutritional value would probably be a much better option, but not everyone can carve out the time to make that trip to the grocery store miles away, or even have the transportation to get there.
I was very familiar with the ultimatum but, like many people, I just never knew there was a term that could so aptly and lucidly capture the plight of living out of bounds of accessible food. Just last year the USDA determined that 12.3% of the American population lived in food insecure households. That’s close to 39 million people who found getting food difficult, either for financial reasons or because of availability of fresh foods.
Some argue that quality of life in impoverished communities is severely lessened by the lack of available healthy food options within the community.
During the Obama administration, the First Lady herself helped to drive policy initiatives to provide healthy meals for kids in schools and in impoverished neighborhoods across that country. Following on its heels, several reports and studies were done, linking a poor diet with issues of mental health, anxiety, and depression.
Still, others argued that poverty was, in fact, the high-stress factor that leads to anxiety and mental health issues. The strain of working multiple jobs, the constant struggle to make ends meet. All of which contribute to a reduction in living quality and a shortened lifespan.
All arguments considered, it’s fairly easy to consolidate both factors and reasonably assume that neither are exactly ideal for a great living experience.
Besides, the real point is that everyone deserves to live a life where food security shouldn’t be an issue. Least of which in a country that labels itself as the wealthiest, most prideful, star-spangled’est with explosions in the sky, land on God’s green Earth.
Columbus itself has several “food deserts”, the majority of which are concentrated on the near Eastside, the area just west of downtown, and all throughout the south city. Some areas, particularly those closer to downtown, have only worsened over the last few years. As development has shifted gears, accelerated, and boosted into the fast lane, many basic community needs have been left choking on smoke as the rest of the city gleefully rolls coal in their faces.
Any grocers that may have serviced these already malnourished areas in the past have already been shoved aside to make room for urban economic grabs. Multi-use developments and corporate offices now stand on the burial grounds of old Kroger lots. Food deserts are surrounded by (and interspersed with) million dollar condo properties. Thriving shoots of life that tower and grow, even as everything around it dies. Sometimes even because of it.
In this way, in particular, the city’s growth and production seem incredibly counter-intuitive. Instead of alleviating the problem with the tangibly beneficial, they build these specialty markets. Stores that cater to the locally-grown-organic-foodie scene while offering wine tastings for strangers to get unmitigatedly buzzed enough to actually speak to each other between bites of over-priced gouda.
In and of itself, there’s nothing terribly wrong with that.
Whatever spreads the chutney over your cracker, I say go for it. But there seems to be a rise in these types of grocers, popping up in areas that (because of their location) don’t necessarily service any particular neighborhood or community.
Still, the issue of food security in Columbus hasn’t gone completely unnoticed. Fresh Foods Here, an initiative sponsored by United Way of Central Ohio, has taken strides to introduce nutritional food alternatives in areas that wouldn’t necessarily have access to them.
The initiative focuses its attention on already existing corner stores and convenience marts. They approach business owners with the possibility of selling fresh foods out of their stores, even going so far as to help the stores market their new products.
In exchange, the stores also receive free advertising, infrastructure renovations, and facade improvements. It’s not as cure-all as say, opening actual markets in areas that need them, but it’s definitely a step in a direction that’s better than nothing.
Hunger– actual genuine hunger, is a distinctively shameful thing.
It’s more than just a thing of desperation, to not be sure where your next meal will come from, it’s also startlingly lonely. Not just in another’s inability to understand its gut-wrenching despair, but also in your own desperate need to keep it to yourself. To hold it close to the chest for fear of pity. It is a desert you’re banished to, but one you’d very much rather walk through alone. The sole and only humane thing to do would be to shrink these deserts, to lessen that despair, before the city grows into something too big to ever do anything about it.