Sandless Deserts – The Continued Spread of Food Deserts in America Poses Serious Health Concerns
When I mention the word “desert,” what comes to your mind? You’d most likely think of somewhere that’s blistering hot with dispersed cacti patches that scatter in patches for miles grasping onto what little life they have in the dry heat. Or perhaps it’s the wind howling as dust devils and sandstorms disorient you from reality as vultures soar the skies looking for their latest victim to succumb to the harsh environment amongst a sea of sand that stretches for miles in every direction. If you thought all of these, you would be correct in describing a convention desert, but there exists another desert that is entirely devoid of sand. This desert is arguably worse since it disproportionately impacts people, will only continue to spread as climate conditions get worse, and its likely to remain hidden from the untrained eye who doesn’t know what they have truly gotten themselves in to. The sandless beast goes by many names, but the most common and well-known is…a food desert.
For those unaware of what a food desert might be or the concept of how there could physically be a desert of food, I first want to get a common ground by defining this geographical disturbance starting with a definition. The term “food desert” gained notoriety in the 1970s and 1980s but has only recently gained popularity in the past decade, where it is now a common concept in economics and public health fields. Depending on what resource one would look into to define food deserts, definitions will vary but for the most part, the general consensus for defining a food desert is as follows:
An area or community with low-income census tracts with a substantial number or share of residents with low levels of access to retail outlets selling healthy and affordable foods. – United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
With a general understanding of what a food desert is, we can now go further into how these deserts can seemingly go invisible to an outsider. For someone who has no idea what a food desert is and how to spot it, one could easily pass through a town, community, or small city and not know they are currently surviving through a food desert simply due to the idea that we wouldn’t have enough time to process and understand the situation those citizens are facing. However, once someone begins to investigate the more “invisible metrics” of the community, things like poverty rate, income, location of supermarkets, etc., then they truly begin to notice the sandless desert.
Typically, food deserts are unequally spread around the world, especially in the United States where people of color are often the main victims to this reality since evidently, studies have shown that there is a high correlation between people of color and poverty. This is due to a lot of external and internal factors that go beyond the realm of this article, but some examples include the need to purchase homes in more rural areas because it is more affordable, gentrification, companies not wanting to develop in these areas, and many more. As a result of these complications, people closest to the poverty line often times have to consume less healthy options, primarily in the form of carcinogenic causing fast food or heavily processed items in order to not only cut costs, but to feed their entire family. In the long term, this can lead to complications like diabetes, heart failure, and cancers simply due to the fact that these populations do not have access to healthier alternatives, or in the event alternatives exist, often times it is far beyond the means of the family’s allotted food budget, creating a seemingly endless cycle that results in unhealthy food coming on top.
For some more in depth and reporting on how food deserts are impacting people on a day-to-day basis, I included a link to a VICE News article that gives a more coherent and research supported understanding of food deserts.