Urban and Rural Food Deserts

Contrary to popular belief, food deserts do not only exist within urban environments. According to The Grocery Gap: Who Has Access To Healthy Foods and Why it Matter, rural food deserts are often found in sparsely populated, low-income communities of color. Due to the fact that these communities are so spread out, they do not have sufficient access or opportunities to buy healthy and affordable foods. As a result, the individuals who live in these rural areas are victims of diet-related diseases such as obesity and diabetes.

Rural food deserts are generally classified as a county where residents must drive more than 10 miles to the nearest supermarket or grocery store, whereas an urban food desert is classified as having to drive more than a mile. Twenty percent of rural counties in the US, are considered to be rural food deserts. Although urban communities are closer to grocery stores, does not necessarily mean they are able to get to them. Transportation is a large issue that urban community residents face when it comes to having to go out and buy food. Not only is transportation an issue, but many grocery stores provided in urban areas are health food stores or local markets. These foods are too expensive for low-income individuals to shop at on a regular basis.

Two terms that are important in this discussion are food deserts and food insecurity. While the two have very similar meanings and are generally paired together, they mean different things. A food desert is defined as an area in which people cannot access affordable and healthy food. As previously mentioned, these are generally impoverished places, lacking a grocery store or healthy food providers. Food insecurity is when an individual is not sure where their food will come from, having little to no access to nutritious food. The emphasis of food insecurity is often placed in urban environments. Although both urban and rural low-income communities suffer from scarce access to healthy foods, urban areas are often assisted more than rural areas. In order to pay equal attention to both food desert sectors, food pantries and resource centers need to promote more outreach to those who live in rural environments.

In the past decade, with the assistance of the First Lady Michelle Obama, with her program Let’s Move! there have been tremendous strides made to lessen these food gaps. This is a program that focuses on getting fruits and vegetables to areas that lack those resources. In urban areas it focuses on access through food pantries and other healthy food providers. In rural areas there is a movement to support local farmers who can produce and sell those nutritious foods to their community. These programs have certainly gained momentum in the last few years, but there is a long ways to go.

Food pantries and resource centers aren’t the only ones who carry the responsibility to reach out to these communities in need. In order to eliminate food deserts from neighborhoods across the United States, policymakers, advocates, philanthropists, and other capable individuals must be educated on what food deserts are and how they can help demolish them. Without the proper education, no one is going to become aware of the grave issues at hand.

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