Food Deserts in America: The Naked Truth

We're teaming up with Naked Juice and Wholesome Wave on a three-month, in-depth series about food deserts.

(Photo: Natalie Maynor/Flickr)

Steve Holt is a regular contributor to TakePart. He writes about food for Edible Boston, Boston Magazine, The Boston Globe, and other publications.

It’s no secret that in many towns and neighborhoods across the country, hardworking Americans have a tough time finding fresh food at affordable prices. In many poor communities—rural and urban alike—fast-food restaurants are a dime a dozen, but there aren’t many grocery stores, never mind a farmers market. Some call such areas “food deserts,” a term the United States Department of Agriculture defines as “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas.” The USDA’s Economic Research Service estimates that 23.5 million Americans live in areas that are more than a mile away from a supermarket and are short on farmers markets and other healthy food providers.

Instead, many living in these areas rely on convenience stores, bodegas, and fast-food restaurants for a large portion of their diet. In many cities, diet-related health problems such as heart disease and diabetes are highest in lower-income neighborhoods considered to be food deserts. The public health and civil rights issues wrapped up in food access have helped garner plenty of attention for the issue, even from the White House.

For the next three months, we’re teaming up with Naked Juice to shine a spotlight—through stories, photos, and infographics—on the issue of food deserts and what can be done to help change them. The problems are great (if not complicated), but many of the solutions—ranging from buses delivering fresh food to resident-owned tracts of urban farmland—are having a real impact. Naked Juice will also be partnering with Wholesome Wave, which is doing some of the best work anywhere to get fresh food into areas where it’s needed. Naked Juice is offering a coupon for $1 off the purchase of one of its products, which Wholesome Wave will match with a donation of one pound of fresh fruit to families living in food deserts.

For years, Wholesome Wave has worked to increase the quality of food available in underserved communities. Its Double Value Coupon Program, which offers farmers market shoppers double the value of their SNAP benefit, launched in 2008 at farmers markets in Connecticut, California, New York, and Massachusetts. Wholesome Wave now sees more than $2 million in sales from its Double Value Coupon Program and SNAP purchases at its partner farm-to-retail venues, which include farmers markets, mobile markets, CSA programs, and farm stands.

As effective as the work has been that Wholesome Wave and other organizations are doing to bring healthier options to underserved Americans, an “if you build it, they will come” approach has rarely worked in food deserts. Programs that focus on educating people, especially children and teens, about the origins of their food, proper nutrition, and the culinary arts, when paired with greater access to healthy food, have seen positive health and behavior outcomes. 

We’re thrilled to tell some of these stories over the coming months, with Naked Juice’s generous support, and provide a variety of perspectives on the problem of food deserts, what is being done to fix it, and—most important—how you can take part in the solutions.

This article is sponsored by Naked Juice's The Food Desert Project. TakePart is teaming up with Naked Juice and Wholesome Wave on a three-month, in-depth series about food deserts.

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