Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Food Desert

What is a food desert?

“Food deserts are defined as urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options. The lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.” - United States Department of Agriculture (1) 

Plenty has been written on how to solve the problem. For example:

“In order to fix the food desert problem in urban areas in the United States, local communities and organizations have taken steps to combat the problem by creating their own plans and agendas to implement change. Based on an interview with the Director of the Steans Center and an anthropologist, Howard Rosing, most of the efforts that haven been taken are community-driven and are run by local community-based organizations. In general, small-scale community projects that have been implemented in various communities throughout the United States have been designed to operate on small budgets. These programs are usually mission rather than market-driven; they are usually funded by small government grants and donations (Lydersen). In this section, it is important to consider the changes that have taken place, the effectiveness of the changes, and the problems and failures of why these programs have not made significant changes in food desert communities.” (2)

The problem with the “fix” narrative is that one is entering the argument in the middle. It would be a much better exercise to begin at the beginning and understand how a food desert forms. Concentrating on urban food deserts, one reason, among many others, that food deserts exist is that they are the result of government failure -or- more succinctly politicos through the mechanism of government and the associated failure thereof. How so?

Urban renewal, public housing and greenways sound warm and fuzzy as the do-gooder is going to help the less fortunate and make utopias of what is seeming a blighted area. However, the end product is to usurp the rights of the poor in order to displace the poor and their neighborhoods. (3)

Believe it or not, lower income people need a “neighborhood” to reside in that has grocery stores, other retailers and importantly, are a reasonable distance to commute to their job. These lower income neighborhoods are not a blight, rather they are vibrant communities like any other community, albeit at a lower income level.

Moreover, people move into and out of such neighborhoods. New lower income job seekers move into the neighborhood and more successful lower income people move to other neighborhoods. Regardless of mobility in or out, or merely staying put, it is a “neighborhood”.

As a neighborhood people network, know one another, and treat the area as home. Hence interrelationships exist that are valuable relationships. Those relationships are also related to self-policing in that no one wants to live in a crime infested neighborhood. In the main, people including lower income people want peace, tranquility and not to be disturbed.

Enter urban renewal and greenways. The do-gooder and associated ilk view the lower income vibrant neighborhood not as what it is, rather as being blighted. The neighborhood is generally foreign looking to the self-appointed do-gooder who lives in neighborhoods unlike the one they are viewing as “blighted”. Stated alternatively, the neighborhood viewed as blighted necessarily needs to look like the do-gooder's neighborhood.

Yes, in order for the lower income vibrant neighborhood to look like the do-gooders neighborhood some nice urban planning needs to come to bear. Meanwhile, the do-gooders ideal of a utopia for the seeming blighted area is hijacked by politicos as they can show “they are going something” for the poor.

Hence central planning under the guise of urban renewal, public housing and greenways is deployed. The neighborhood is to be bulldozed under and replaced with shiny new public housing with a greenway for all to enjoy. Sounds good huh?

Problem is during the bulldozing/building phase all the occupants are displaced including business owners. Yes, the business owners that provided the grocery stores and retailing. These business owners can’t wait years to reopen and move on to other locations.

The dislocated workers must now find housing that is affordable since their neighborhood is now destroyed. Many find that only rural locations have a price of housing they can afford. However, moving to rural locations cause an additional price for the lower income worker in the form of commuting further to work. An additional price lower income individuals can ill afford.

Note: The same politicos that destroy affordable housing for the poor will turn around and frame "affordable housing" as a hand wringing problem ......when to one degree or another it is a problem of their own making.

Years go by and the utopia of public housing/greenway is ready for use. The new inhabitants of public housing are usually a different group than was dislocated by the central planning. The old group’s interrelationships have ended with other x-inhabitants and they care not the expense of moving yet again. Further, the public housing is not as attractive to the dislocated vs. the rental home or apartment they previously had before being dislocated. (4) (5)

The previous businesses owners, in the main, do not return as they have found other endeavors. New businesses are reluctant to located in public housing areas due to a crime rate that is inherent with warehousing people.

Also, the nice “greenway” that was constructed where a previous low income housing area once stood, it not really for the use of low income people. Huh? Oh yes, more times than not middle income people use the greenway to jog, bike and walk their dog. Was the greenway an altruistic endeavor for the value of the poor or merely an additional value for the middle class? (6)




(3) The Tyranny of Experts, William Easterly, 2013, Basic Books

(4) Ibid

(5) The Other Path, Hernando DeSoto, 1989, Basic Books

(6) Aaron Director, directors law