Reclaiming Georgia’s Food Wastelands

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abandoned shopping cart

If you’re not already familiar with food deserts, it’s a phrase that came out of the United Kingdom during the ’90s. A food desert is an area where families have no access to affordable fruits and vegetables—and other healthy foods—because they live far from a supermarket and don’t have easy access to transportation.

Two million Georgians, including half a million children are trapped in food deserts, because they have nowhere to go in their low-income neighborhoods to shop for reasonably priced, nutritious foods. This is a crisis that occurs in both urban and rural communities.

Access on the surface may seem only an issue of distance and transportation. But we need to acknowledge that a consumer who earns a meager living—even standing within arms distance of a produce bin—still can’t access unaffordable healthy food. There’s neither a matter of personal responsibility nor a choice when large quantities of empty calories will go a lot farther than a bag of fruit.

Suddenly a new term—food swamps—has emerged.

A story in The Augusta Chronicle this weekend, ” ‘Food swamps’ in Augusta lack healthy food,” points out that there are neighborhoods filled with houses and people and convenience stores. But on the food map they appear as large empty patches where residents lack access to healthy foods, which experts say sets them up for obesity and food-related diseases.

Dr. Heidi Blanck, the chief of the Obesity Prevention and Control Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, describes food swamps as neighborhoods where the stores selling healthy food such as fresh fruits and vegetables are vastly outnumbered by convenience stores and fast-food restaurants selling unhealthy choices.

Whether they live in food deserts or food swamps, our children are falling prey to obesity issues. The rate of childhood obesity in Georgia is the second highest in the nation.

That’s why Georgia Family Connection Partnership, the Georgia Food Industry Association, and The Food Trust came together to convene the Georgia Supermarket Access Task Force to find ways to improve health and economic development across the state.