Ditch the 'food desert' label to make real change
November 6th, 2013
05:15 PM ET
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Editor's note: John Bare is vice president of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation and executive-in-residence at Georgia Tech's Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship.

The movement to eradicate food deserts would benefit from, of all things, banishment of the term food desert.

In a job where I'm seeking innovations that allow more families to have better access to fresh fruits and vegetables, I'm struck that advocates seem mostly interested in mapping and remapping the same neighborhoods to establish conclusive proof that food deserts exist. By the USDA definition, that means documenting "a census tract with a substantial share of residents who live in low-income areas that have low levels of access to a grocery store or healthy, affordable food retail outlet."

The problem is that this approach focuses on diagnosis but not cure. It's as if doctors kept perfecting the test for polio without looking for a vaccine.

The food desert diagnosis too easily turns into a club used to beat families most in need. Being labeled a food desert makes a neighborhood undesirable, rather than a target of opportunity.

The discussion gets mean-spirited when critics assert that it's the people - not the neighborhoods - who are broken.

Read - Get rid of the 'food desert' label

More on food deserts:

"Making groceries" in a New Orleans food desert
The food desert in your own backyard
Class warfare in the grocery aisle
Creating an oasis in a Southern 'food desert'
The Capital’s food deserts
Michelle Obama seeks to stamp out food deserts with the help of some grocery giants

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Filed under: Food Deserts • Food Politics • Hunger

soundoff (One Response)
  1. Hillary Shaw

    Surely you need a name for a disease – like polio – before you can start to cure it. Then you need a definition, so you know the patient hasn't got cancer or something else. Then you might find different kinds of polio, each demanding a different cure. Like food deserts, there are several different kinds, different causes. More at http://www.fooddeserts.org. Some affluent, some poor, some ethnic-based. Main causes are a) physical access, b) financial access, c) food attitude, all need different initiatives.

    November 10, 2013 at 9:25 am |
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