Policy Point Wednesday: Labels and the Food Desert

Policy Point Wednesday: Labels and the Food Desert

In a recent Op-Ed for CNN, John Bare – VP of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation wrote that the biggest problem in the food desert is the label itself: he asserts that a diagnosis of food desert status “too easily turns into a club used to beat families most in need.” An  article he links by economist Jacob Geller asserts that lack of access is not what drives a food desert, but that the economics of the food desert are driven by residents’ choices: a lack of demand creates the lack of adequate supply. (I link Geller’s article with the caveat that he makes an awful lot of assumptions about “poor people” that illustrate exactly how the food desert label can be turned into a club.)

Bare asserts that we need a “Food Oasis” movement, and offers up many examples of mobile and virtual markets that offer new ways to bring food into underserved communities.  The Arthur Blank Foundation Speaker Series suggests that food vendors are an important part of the equation: having sellers who offer information about their food is just as important as increasing access.  They touch lightly upon an issue I think is central to the problem: education.  Advertisers spend billions of dollars “educating” their consumers to eat “fringe foods” (after all – it takes a certain amount of education to make a “Frito Boat.”) The public needs advocates explaining the use and value of foods that have been shown to improve health

In my own opinion, a focus on improved education about food, nutrition, and health is more likely to improve our nation’s health than any other specific policy intervention – it is at least as important as improving access.  The education can’t simply consist of admonishing people to eat vegetables; we need advocates for good foods who can teach strategies to make them as efficient both in cost and in time as “fringe” foods – one of the features of SNAP that has all but disappeared due to budget cuts.  In addition to general advocacy, we need an individual approach, one that targets and supports each person at risk for chronic disease whose health can be improved with lifestyle changes.

Filed under: Food News

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