Search for the Sustainable Source: Mega-Store Oasis Emerges in a Food Desert
From my apartment in Washington D.C., I can walk less than 5 minutes in any direction and end up at a grocery store. On a daily basis, the question for me is: which grocery store would I like to go to today—the closest? The cheapest? The one with the best selection and variety? Or the one in which I can eat samples as I shop? (That’s the one I end up at, most often) I have this choice to make each time I run out of milk. And across the same city, there are people who don’t have a grocery store to go to, let alone a choice.
“Food Deserts” is a buzzword that essentially means an area where a large number of people lack access to a grocery store. The idea of having access to a grocery store is the idea that one has options for food, and beyond that, healthy options: fresh and whole foods — no, not the store, but actual whole foods such as produce, grains, etc. Access to a Mickey-D’s or a gas station quick-mart, doesn’t cut it when it comes to eating healthy foods every day.
I was recently sent a link to a USDA site through an article on the DCist.com, where one can see the food desert areas mapped out in any region in the country. It shocked me to see the shot of the entire country and the large areas that are considered food deserts. Then to zoom in to see food deserts in the neighborhoods that I know so well. Though it is a small percentage of the population, it covers a larger area than I expected. This also is attributed to the fact that food deserts often fall in areas with fewer people living.
The DCist writes about food deserts in the city mostly due to a rise in awareness over the latest controversy of potential Wal-Mart’s popping up in the areas lacking with access supermarkets. The superstore not only offers cheap options for just about everything, including food products, but it also offers jobs. Food deserts, have limited options for healthy food, and this limitation is damaging to the area’s residents. In some ways, offering a store like Wal-Mart is seen as a “silver bullet” option to help alleviate the results of a food desert.
Bringing in a store like Wal-Mart eliminates the choice for people, but at the same time in areas where the choices are limited, it offers at least an option. I personally grew up in an anti-Wal-Mart environment (small town, pro-local business, and yes, a bit elitist). In fact, I can probably count on one (okay, maybe two) hand the times I have actually entered a Wal-Mart in my life — let alone actually bought something there. Not only do I have an aversion to their poor working conditions and worker rights, but I also disagree with the outcome when Wal-Mart becomes the only options for shopping with competing businesses wiped out.
I don’t think that Wal-Mart is the only answer to solving a problem of a food desert, in fact far from it. Though it offers affordable food, without competition, I think that it can create different and damaging controversy in the future for the shoppers who rely solely on the Super store for everything. The controversy raises is the issue of food deserts and brings awareness to the situation. With this, further actions can be under taken to solve it — affordable farmers markets, options for SNAP food benefits use at grocery stores that otherwise would be too pricey, or an additional grocery store (not a mega-store) in the area to drive up competition and drive down prices. Adding one store that whips out the need for all other stores is not the answer to eliminating a food desert. This current controversy over Wal-Mart, however, should begin a discussion of why it is entering the arena, looking at the issue of food deserts and other options the city or neighborhood have to contemplate.
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