a low-income urban, suburban or rural area where there are limited vendors of fresh produce but often numerous fast-food outlets

For cities, one particular problem is “food deserts” – low-income areas where the prevalent food options are chips and soda at corner stores instead of leafy green vegetables at supermarkets.

See article at: CSM 14Feb11 – The rise of the city ‘food czar’


[Wal-Mart] company says it will also address the problem of “food deserts” — a dearth of grocery stores selling fresh produce in rural and underserved urban areas like Anacostia — by building more stores. And it will increase charitable contributions for nutrition programs.

A range of studies has shown that low-income people, especially those who receive food stamps, face special dietary challenges because eating healthy costs more and healthier food is harder to get in their neighborhoods. James D. Weill, president of Food Research and Action Center, an organization that has discussed the problem with Wal-Mart, said the company  recognized “how much hunger and food insecurity there is in the country.”

See article at: NYT 20Jan11 – Wal-Mart Shifts Strategy to Promote Healthy Foods


Among students of the contemporary metropolis, “food deserts” have become a widely known problem. The term is generally used to describe urban neighborhoods where there are few grocers selling fresh produce, but a cornucopia of fast-food places and convenience stores selling salty snacks (though, strictly speaking, the term can be applied to rural or suburban areas, too). Often the problem afflicts low-income areas abandoned or shunned by food businesses that focus on better-off consumers; the residents of food deserts, apparently, are not providing enough profit to be offered more healthful grub. These are places where the market for nutritious sustenance has essentially failed.

Perhaps the marketplace can reverse its own failure, but a little prodding from other entities may be required. One example emerged this summer in Chicago when Walgreens, the drugstore chain founded in that city more than 100 years ago, started selling an expanded selection of food, including fresh fruits and vegetables, at 10 locations selected because they were in food deserts. The experiment in creating these “food oases” is intriguing because it involves a well-known retail brand not typically associated with groceries and, really, because it involves a well-known retail brand at all.

Chicago was the focus of a 2006 study by the Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group (commissioned by LaSalle Bank) that helped popularize the phrase “food desert” by linking it to block-by-block grocery-access data and made forceful arguments about the impact the lack of options had on public health. While the same issues exist in many places (and Gallagher has since assessed locales like Detroit and Birmingham, Ala.), it seems likely that the prominent association between Chicago and the food-desert problem played some role in motivating city politicians; the Walgreens foray into groceries followed an appeal from Mayor Richard Daley’s office.

See article at: NYT Magazine 14Nov10: Walgreens Tackles ‘Food Deserts’

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