Food Deserts Cripple Communities


Cars bustle through the neighborhood without stopping. Gas stations and liquor stores fill street after street. The windows crammed with salty goods, canned goods, fatty goods: crunchy chips, sugary soda, captivating candy, and indescribable ice cream. There is not a single grocery store in sight. The land is barren of any fresh produce. It is a food desert.
Food deserts are areas or communities which lack any store selling fresh fruits and vegetables, according to the USDA. People who live in these communities have limited access to transportation and often must take multiple buses over several hours in order to reach the nearest grocery store. These areas are normally lower income. According to the USDA’s food desert locator atlas such areas border Piedmont, as close as West Oakland.
“When I go around Oakland, I see blocks that are deserted from availability to produce,” senior Ethan Tung said, “I only see convenient stores or liquor stores, places where you can only get chips or instant Ramen and no healthy food.”
There is an average of one supermarket per 93,126 residents in certain areas of Oakland where the average household income is only $32,000, according to a recent survey conducted by HOPE Collaborative of Oakland.
The lack of nutrition supplanted by other foods containing high fat and sugar content in these areas cause health problems, said cofounder of the ENRICH (Environment Nutrition and Resource Investment for Community Health) Natural Learning Center Emily Fisher.
Fisher created ENRICH, a community gardening system, in response to the food desert status of the area in Chicago where she lived during medical school. She and her partner, Richard Fisher, are working on addressing this in their new home, Vallejo, through the creation of an urban farming cooperative and a mobile produce bus.
“Often obesity rates are higher in these areas,” Fisher said, “Also the level of stress that some of these people feel about how they’re going to get food and how they’re going to feed their families pervades every aspect of their lives.”
In addition, lack of proper nutrition can cause people, especially children, to have weaker immune systems, increased hospitalization, and other negative health issues.
“Before, it was unheard of for children to be developing type two diabetes, fatty liver, and high blood pressure,” said PUSD Director of Nutrition M’Lisa Kelley.
According to the head of pediatric cardiology at Children’s Hospital in Oakland, 65% of the younger generation are going to die before their parents, said Kelley. A large contributing factor is access to good food.
West Oakland residents lack access to quality food and have some of the highest rates of diet related disease in Alameda County, according Mandela MarketPlace.
Fortunately, there are many different programs increase access to nutrition in Oakland and other areas around the United States, including the Mandela MarketPlace. Mandela MarketPlace provides and promotes fresh produce in local corner stores, where the only choices previously were processed foods and alcohol. This crucial access to fruits and vegetables can also be attained through urban community gardens.
“I think community gardening is something that has really taken off; especially in the Bay Area,” Fisher said. “They almost always need people to help. There is always weeding, and watering, and harvesting, and distributing that needs to happen.”
Sophomore Adrienne Chan said that only one of her friends knows about the concept of food deserts, but that shouldn’t be the case, the whole student body should be aware of this issue and more should be done for the cause.