Food Deserts and Grand Plans

      115 Comments on Food Deserts and Grand Plans

The topic of so-called “food deserts” came up in comments on a recent post.  A reader included a link to a Eureka Alert article that included these quotes:

An analysis of a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults reveals that access to healthy foods in a supermarket does not hinder Americans’ consumption of empty calories. In fact, the study found, U.S. adults buy the bulk of their sugar-sweetened beverages and nutrient-poor discretionary foods at supermarkets and grocery stores.

The new findings challenge the “food desert” hypothesis, which posits that a lack of access to supermarkets and grocery stores in some communities worsens the obesity crisis by restricting people’s access to healthy foods.

As part of their never-ending quest to create a better society by spending other people’s money and/or restricting other people’s freedoms, The Anointed decided to take on the (ahem) “problem” of food deserts some years ago.  And boy, the Grand Plan they came up with to fix it is such a fine example of The Anointed in action, I decided to write a full post on the topic.

I haven’t discussed The Anointed for a while, so I’ll start with a brief review of how they operate.  This is my crib-sheet version of Thomas Sowell’s terrific book The Vision of The Anointed:

  • The Anointed identify a problem in society.
  • The Anointed propose a Grand Plan to fix the problem.  Strangely, the Grand Plan nearly always requires spending other people’s money and/or restricting other people’s freedom to make their own decisions.
  • Because they are so supremely confident in their ideas, The Anointed don’t bother with proof or evidence that the Grand Plan will actually work.  In fact, they cheerfully ignore any evidence that the Grand Plan won’t work.
  • If possible, The Anointed will use government coercion to impose the Grand Plan on other people (for their own good, of course).
  • Because the problem they’ve identified is The Bad, The Anointed assume whatever Grand Plan they design to fix it is The Good.  Therefore, anyone who opposes the Grand Plan is opposing Good itself … which can only mean those people are either evil or stupid.
  • If the Grand Plan fails (which it usually does), The Anointed will never, ever, ever admit the Grand Plan was wrong.  They will instead conclude that 1) the plan was good, but was undermined by people who are evil or stupid, or 2) the plan didn’t go far enough … which means we need to do the same thing again, ONLY BIGGER.

So with that in mind, let’s look at some examples of The Anointed identifying the “food desert” problem in America.

We’ll start with a USDA Today article titled Millions of Food Desert Dwellers Struggle to Get Fresh Groceries.  Heck, you don’t even need to read the article after seeing that title.  It tells you everything you need to know.  Millions of people are struggling to get fresh groceries.  Clearly they want those fresh fruits and vegetables, but find the task nearly impossible.  Here are some quotes:

There’s been little improvement in the country’s food accessibility in recent years, and that’s bad news for millions of Americans.

“Efforts to encourage Americans to improve their diets and to eat more nutritious foods presume that a wide variety of these foods are accessible to everyone. But, for some Americans and in some communities, access to healthy foods may be limited,” said a 2012 USDA report, which found that nearly 10 percent of the U.S. population lived in a low-income area more than a mile from a supermarket.

Other research suggests healthier food options are typically limited in low-income regions, as a team of Yale University professors concluded after a regional supermarket analysis that “lower-income neighborhoods (compared to those in higher-income neighborhoods) stock fewer healthier varieties of foods and have fresh produce of much lower quality.”

So there you have it.  We’re encouraging Americans to improve their diets, but nutritious food just isn’t available in many areas, especially poor areas.  Isn’t that odd?  Nobody talks about “athletic shoe deserts” or “flat-screen TV deserts” or “chicken-nugget deserts” in any of America’s big cities.  But for some reason, the same class of greedy capitalists who profit from those products apparently don’t want to swoop in and make a buck selling nutritious fruits and vegetables.

The USDA Today article was written by someone with the title of Economy Reporter.  That ought to scare you.  A little knowledge of basic economics should be a requirement for the job.

We can be a bit more forgiving of a group called DoSomething.org, since it describes itself as “young people + social change.”  When I hear that young people are motivated by “social change,” I’ll bet you dollars to donuts (and you can keep the donuts) they don’t know diddly about economics — which is why they’re often in love with Grand Plans that promise to DoSomething!  Anyway, here are portions of their deep analysis of the problem:

“Food deserts” are geographic areas where access to affordable, healthy food options (aka fresh fruits and veggies) is limited or nonexistent because grocery stores are too far away.

Residents living in food deserts also have a hard time finding foods that are culturally relevant and that meet their dietary restrictions.

People living in the poorest SES (social-economic status) areas have 2.5 times the exposure to fast-food restaurants as those living in the wealthiest areas.

With limited options, many people living in food deserts get meals from fast-food restaurants.

Food insecurity has a high correlation with increased diabetes rates.

Ain’t it awful?  Once again, for reasons nobody can explain, greedy capitalists apparently aren’t interested in turning a profit by selling nutritious (or even culturally relevant) foods to people who are struggling to find them.  So with those limited options, people living in food deserts turn to fast food (despite its lack of cultural relevance) and then develop diabetes.  Man, somebody needs to jump in and DoSomething!

It’s not just young people interested in social change who believe this nonsense.  Here’s part of a comment on a PBS article about food deserts (which we’ll revisit shortly):

I remember sitting in a seminar while attending Hopkins school of public health many years ago when this issue was gaining momentum and the speaker (a community advocate) believed there was some sort of conspiracy or concerted effort to keep healthy foods out of low-income, urban neighborhoods. He believed that corner store owners could make more money selling fruits and vegetables than junk food but just simply didn’t do it.

Yup, a community activist actually believes there’s a conspiracy NOT to sell fruits and vegetables in urban neighborhoods, even though the store owners would make more money.  Hey, maybe someday we’ll elect a former community activist as our president.  Then we’ll really see some brilliant economic programs.  Perhaps one that jacks insurance premiums through the roof while simultaneously chasing the major insurers and providers out of the market. In the meantime, I’d love to have a secret conversation with one of those store owners conspiring to keep fruits and vegetables out of urban neighborhoods.

“Listen, you know you’d actually make more money selling healthy food to these people, right?”

“Yeah, but I still don’t want to do it.”

“Why not?”

“I figure if my customers keep dying of diabetes, that’s good for business in the long run.”

With the problem identified, The Anointed of course proposed a Grand Plan.  Here’s what the PBS article had to say about it:

To change the situation in these areas — known as “food deserts” — Mrs. Obama called for action. “This is happening all across the country. We’re setting people up for failure if we don’t fix this.”

Notice the attitude:  it’s a problem and the government must fix it – by spending other people’s money, of course.  As usual, The Anointed didn’t bother looking for evidence that the plan would work.  They didn’t start by spending, say, $100,000 to open fruit and vegetable stands in a few “food deserts” to determine whether or not the desert-dwellers would actually buy them.  Nope, the plan must always be Grand.  The article on Eureka Alert explains just how Grand this one was:

The food desert hypothesis led the U.S. government to spend almost $500 million since 2011 to improve access to supermarkets and grocery stores in underserved communities. States and municipalities also have made efforts to increase the supply of healthy foods, offering financial incentives to build new grocery stores or to increase the amount of fresh food available in convenience stores and gas stations, for example.

And from the PBS article:

Pennsylvania has launched a program whereby 88 new or expanded food retail outlets have been created, giving healthy food access to around 500,000 children and adults. And in fact, when the House passed the long-awaited farm bill on Wednesday, it included a provision for the HealthyFood Financing Initiative, which would allocate $125 million for expanding food resources in underserved communities across the nation.

That’s more than a half-billion of your dollars.  So how’s it working?  I’m sure you can guess, but let’s look at some quotes from the PBS article:

Fast forward to 2014, though, and the problem of food deserts — and their effect on diet and health — still persists.

Really?  After a half-billion spent by the feds and millions more spent by states? How can that be?

The problem may not lie solely with food accessibility; it could also be due to people’s shopping and eating habits.

Gee, do ya think?

Steven Cummins, a professor of population health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, suggests that merely adding a new grocery store to a neighborhood won’t be enough to motivate individuals to shop there for healthier foods.

In other words, the Grand Plan isn’t working for the same reason those wunnerful, wunnerful fruits and vegetables weren’t available in “food deserts” in the first place:  THE LOCALS AREN’T INTERESTED IN BUYING THEM.  HOW DID YOU NOT SEE THIS COMING A HALF-BILLION DOLLARS AGO, YOU @#$%ING MORONS?!

Here’s the really fun part:  The USDA is aware of research negating the hypothesis that people don’t buy fruits and vegetables because they “struggle” to find them.  Look at these quotes from a USDA document, which explains (among other things) that most people living in “food deserts” actually travel to a superstore to buy groceries:

If poor food access affects consumers’ food choices, then the dietary quality of consumers with limited food shopping options should improve when they shop farther from home, where their choices are less constrained. Nielsen data confirm that the dietary quality of their purchases did improve, but just slightly. By driving an extra mile to the store, low-access consumers purchased 0.42 percent more fruits, 0.55 percent more vegetables, 0.61 percent more low-fat milk products, and 0.33 percent less nondiet drinks.

They travel to big stores, but buy perhaps one-half of one percent more fruits and vegetables than people who don’t travel to big stores.  So much for the struggle.

But what about people living in a neighborhood where a new (government-subsidized) store was built to make sure resident have easy access to fruits and vegetables?  Here’s what the USDA document says:

In Pittsburgh, the share of residents in the new-store neighborhood who were regular users of the new store was much higher—68 percent—but their diet quality was not different from their neighbors who were not regular users of the new store.

These results suggest that improving access to healthful foods by itself will likely not have a major impact on consumer diets or generate major reductions in diet-related disease.

No change in diet.  Big fat fail.  Another Grand Plan bites the dust.

Well, not really.  Grand Plans never bite the dust.  When a Grand Plan fails, The Anointed always conclude that it was undermined by people who are stupid or evil, or it didn’t go far enough.  Here’s what one economics genius commenting on the PBS article has to say:

Healthy food must become affordable and that means unhealthy food must become more expensive. A RISK tax’s – akin to the excise tax on tobacco – time has come.

Incentives to purchase vegetables and low glycemic fruit must be made part of the SNAP program and sugar (including refined grains) must be restricted or denied.

In-store marketing could be cooking demonstrations by folks savvy in nutrition using healthy food – limited ingredients, mostly plants – show them and they will buy SANE – Sustainable, Affordable, Nutritious food for Everyone.

Right.  The answer, of course, is to spend even more of other people’s money and restrict more of other’s people’s freedoms.  Restrict and deny choices, raise taxes, and spend more money to demonstrate how to cook healthy food.  Because by gosh, THEN the urban “food desert” dwellers will finally decide they want more fruits and vegetables.

What is so hard to try these approaches?

I dunno, but I bet someone who’s either evil or stupid is undermining them.

Ah! sorry, I know. It is that corporations such as Coca-Cola have infiltrated the first lady’s program to promote “let’s move” and forget the nutrition part of the obesity epidemic.

Well, that explains it.  The feds spent a half-billion dollars to make fruits and vegetables more accessible, but people aren’t buying them because the evil corporation Coca-Cola infiltrated Ms. Obama’s awesome Grand Plan.

Professor Cummins, who conducted the study covered in the PBS article, has this to say:

I want to stress that supermarket interventions — even though I don’t think they’re necessarily effective in the way people think they’ll be effective — are very important, and I am actually quite supportive of them.

Excuse me?  Your own study says supermarket interventions don’t change eating habits, but you still think they’re important and support them?!

In addition to improving physical access to food in disadvantaged neighborhoods, you also need to think about policies that help bridge this gap between perception and action. These might include things such as economic initiatives — like taxes or subsidies for healthy foods — but could also include harnessing in-store marketing to promote the purchase of healthy foods as opposed to unhealthy foods.

I see.  We need even more government action.  The Grand Plan obviously didn’t go far enough.

Here’s a thought to consider, Professor:  when people in some neighborhoods don’t buy fruits and vegetables even when the feds spend millions of dollars to bring them in, it’s not because they’re disadvantaged.  It’s because they buy what they prefer to eat.

So how about you just leave them (and the rest of us) alone?


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115 thoughts on “Food Deserts and Grand Plans

  1. Ula

    What about this guy:

    Does he live in a “European type windows” desert? They are just normal windows, yet he thinks they are awsome. Clearly he doesn’t know them from home. Why?

    Reply
    1. Annlee

      We had those windows when we were stationed in Germany, and I loved them, too. Wish we had them here instead of double-hung with springs that get tight and cranky.

      Reply
      1. Jennifer Snow

        The best thing about those windows is that they’re basically effortless to clean, you don’t have the problem with the ones we have where you pretty much have to go outside and climb the side of the house to get access to the panes that are covered up when they’re open.

        Reply
  2. gollum

    Central Europe has a vast network of discount store chains that sound like “Aldel” or “Lidi” and most of these stock basic produce and fruits. (If too expensive for their rather low nutritional value.)

    If there are regions not covered it would be the deep countryside with 23 inmate villages. So the busybodies cannot create bullshit work about food deserts in cities here.

    You know what’s our busybodies (who are, incidentally,(partially) government sponsored “NGOs”) latest innovation now? A “study” about [i]sugar content in soft drinks[/i]. Yes. Apparently sugar being a key component of soft drink is news for Lugenpresse victims.

    I was like, [i]soft drinks have never been health food anyway[/i] and [i]It is printed right on the bottle, as much sugar as fruit juice has usually[/i]. But then I have this terrible thing called common sense.

    Reply
    1. Stephen T

      Aldi and Lidl, both German in origin. They’re very good value and have grown rapidly in the UK and taken business from the older dominant companies. They tend to be sited in mixed or poorer areas, but the middle classes shop there in a way that wouldn’t have happened ten years ago. They sell a good array of fruit, vegetables, fish and meat and all the usual sugar and carb laden rubbish. I don’t think anyone could seriously suggest that healthy food isn’t available to poor people, but they do tend to buy junk. The sort of junk the Government has told people to eat, heavily influenced by vested interests. Good quality full fat food is easily available and I believe its sales are increasing. I can choose from at least six high-quality butters or yoghurts, for example. But the aisles are still dominated by processed rubbish and there’s still a long way to go.

      Reply
  3. Jan

    In a comedy of errors that included an unexpected bun in the oven, interfering inlaws, an idiot of an Obamacare doctor fresh out of her residency and a bewildered CPS worker (trust me, it would take HOURS to explain this), my daughter found herself in a WIC office.

    In the course of her latest visit with the WIC people, her case worker asked her, as if anticipating a negative answer, “Do you ever shop at the farmer’s market?”

    Mostly she shops in our vast backyard vegetable garden, but my daughter replied, “Oh, yes!”

    The woman perked right up and told her she qualified for vouchers that allowed her to spend the equivalent of a whopping $25 a month at the local farmer’s market.

    “Hardly anyone ever takes them, though,” the woman said (but that didn’t mean my daughter could have more than her allotted $25 worth of vouchers, of course).

    Hardly anyone ever takes them…and we don’t even live in a food desert.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton

      Yup, and next they’ll spend money on advertising to encourage people to take the vouchers they didn’t request.

      Reply
      1. Bob Niland

        We were at an area farmer’s market yesterday, and there was a booth there giving away what appeared to be some local or state tokens for people of certain class classifications to spend there.

        This is eventually going to corrupt the farmer’s markets, as scammers figure out that they can buy cheap conventional (chemical laden GMO) veggies at Walmart, and sell them for more at FM. And heck, as long as they are willing to cheat the subsidy system, they’ll probably falsely claim organic and non-GMO so they can charge even more.

        Reply
  4. lemoutongris

    For one thing, if #newspeakliberal (among whom annointed ones are chosen) didn’t fight tooth and nails for places that actually give access to fresh foods like Wal Mart, the problem (if there is one) wouldn’t be as widespreaded.

    Also, if the annointed really cared for the environment, they would actually encourage more food imports – where it’s produced more efficiently. The present agricultural policy is based on the candlemaker petition: we need protection from unfair foreign competition! Right, using that logic we need to grow pineapples and coconuts in Alaska. If you haven’t read the book (THe Locavore Dilemna, by Pierre Desrochers and his Japanese wife whose name I forget), this is an absolute must

    Reply
  5. Galina L.

    Nowadays a healthy food is the food which you eat, but don’t actually get any calories. Not a good idea for poor people – to spend their scarce money on beautifully colored undigested fiber and water. Raw or lightly cooked vegetables are hard to digest. Children eat produce at a dinner table mostly when it is drenched in fat. I know some low income people – they work couple minimal wage jobs, don’t have much time for cooking and other household chores like shopping and cleaning, which takes way more time than cooking itself, ans even less time and energy to argue with their children about food.

    Reply
    1. Annlee

      We had those windows when we were stationed in Germany, and I loved them, too. Wish we had them here instead of double-hung with springs that get tight and cranky.

      Reply
      1. Jennifer Snow

        The best thing about those windows is that they’re basically effortless to clean, you don’t have the problem with the ones we have where you pretty much have to go outside and climb the side of the house to get access to the panes that are covered up when they’re open.

        Reply
  6. HxH

    So frustrating. Their “solution” is to tax the unhealthy foods that are made predominantly with government subsidized crops. Wouldn’t eliminating farm subsidies remedy the “unhealthy food must become more expensive” part? They want more of our money when they can actually save money to get the effect they want.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton

      Bingo. If we’re going to ask government to (ahem) “fix” the problem, let’s start by getting rid of subsidies. That we’re actually we’re actually spend less taxpayer money instead of more.

      Reply
      1. Bob Niland

        re: …let’s start by getting rid of subsidies.

        Could happen. We lately watched a documentary that had convinced itself that industrial chemicals are the #1 suspect in adverse health trends – flame-retardant chemical in fabrics in particular, in California, where such chems were mandatory.

        The show was lamenting the failure to get these mandatory chems banned. The real solution, of course, was to repeal the mandate, which apparently has happened. What’s mandatory now is a label if FR is still present (the solution to the unintended consequences of any law has to include at least one new law, I suppose).

        I agree, by the way, that non-native halogens are a major problem in health trends. They aren’t #1 on my list, but they are up there. People are routinely exposed to a lot of things potentially more troubling than polybrominated diphenyl ethers; chloramine in municipal drinking water, for example.

        Reply
      2. Brandon

        I grew up in a farming region and both my father and his father were farmers. I was raised with the belief (obviously biased) that subsidies were good for the region, particularly as it was filled with many family farms. When my grandfather passed, none of his children could afford to buy the land individually and it wasn’t large enough to sustain a multifamily income. It was bought in auction by a local “superfarm family” that routinely bought up smaller estates (around 1000 acres) and had amassed around 15,000 acres. From my observation, it seems like the argument that the subsidies helps small family farmers has lost merit over time (if it ever had any in the first place) as my family’s example happens to many in the area. It often requires too much capital to take over a farm, unless it is passed on completely debt free, and it’s nearly impossible to get into farming without amassing most of the assets through inheritance. The real benefit to the farm subsidies appears to be to the larger farmers, agricultural and food companies that get to operate at a reduced cost due to the subsidy often believed to support the nation’s “local family farmers.”

        Reply
  7. Isabel

    I’ve been a grocery cart observer for a long time. I watch what other people are buying and here is my observational opinion:

    Many people do not have the skills, tools and time to cook real food.

    The young mom with 3 kids is buying instant noodles, frozen pizza, juice boxes and maybe some bananas.
    The older man is buying sandwich meat, white bread and chips.
    The middle aged woman is buying frozen meals and popcorn.

    My cart is filled with with 8 different vegetables, 5 types of fruit, fresh chicken and ground beef, frozen fish or shrimp, eggs, butter, etc.

    We should give these people cutting boards, knives and peelers. We should teach them what to do with a zucchini and a chunk of meat. Most of them have never tasted asparagus, eggplant or salmon. We need to show them how easy and economical it is to cook real meals.

    I blame the absence of home economics in the schools. If your mom never showed you how to boil a pound of beans, make a pot of soup, bake a potato or toss a salad, then somebody else needs to teach you. We are going into a third generation of people with no kitchen skills, I can tell just by looking at their grocery cart.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton

      I see a lot of junk in grocery carts too, but I don’t think it’s up to us to intervene. If people want to switch to a better diet, they’ll find the information. If not, that’s their business.

      Reply
    2. BobM

      Has anyone ever thought that maybe people can’t afford some of this? Or maybe due to limited funds, they have to get the highest amount of calories for their dollars?

      Even if poor people eat meat, it has to be cheap. You won’t find them buying salmon or organic, farm-raised chickens. We buy pretty much all organic, whole foods, and lots of high quality meat. But our grocery bill for a month for a family of four is probably more than some people make per month. Try pricing a grass-fed steak or grass-fed yoghurt some time (where grass-fed = from cows that are fed only grass).

      For instance, you state “Most of them have never tasted asparagus, eggplant or salmon.” Could you have selected a group of items that’s more expensive than this? Asparagus has to be one of the most expensive vegetables you can buy. Ditto for salmon. (And even I rarely — if ever — eat eggplant.)

      And if you’re poor, you’re most likely a manual laborer. Try working construction and eating salad. You’ll waste away and die. You need calories, and if you’re poor, you’re going to get those calories through foods like pasta and anything else that’s cheap.

      Reply
      1. Lissa

        BobM,

        I am a divorced mom living with two kids– teens who eat a lot. We just barely make it over the “poverty level” with my salary plus some little child support.

        Yet, my grocery cart always has organic produce, organic or grass fed butter, organic milk and dairy, some grass fed hamburger.

        Our cart NEVER even gets close to half full though.

        But my kids eat plenty of whole foods, meat and potatoes..plus some good old bacon …and eggs from pastured chickens.

        Oh yeah — We don’t eat a lot of asparagus or eggplant either! But I buy my organic broccoli FROZEN….. a bag of that is less than a Big Mac! And occasionally even wild caught salmon frozen — its quite affordable that way.

        Of course, we can do all that, Bob, because we don’t have the latest cell phones or game systems, $100 sneakers, or the newest big screen TV’s. I will wear the same couple of pairs of shoes for several years. I use the same handbag for years. I am willing to shop second hand.

        The thing is Bob……..the poor people where I live FILL their grocery carts to overflowing the top with all kinds of stuff — because they use entitlement programs to pay for the food. They usually take that Access Card out of a really nice looking, expensive bag, which — of course, holds the latest model smartphone.

        Once you see that type of thing in front of you at the checkout aisle a hundred times….you realize that no one below the poverty level is forced to buy shi##y food.

        They choose to spend their money on things other than whole foods.

        Reply
    3. Galina L.

      To tell you the truth , loading your shopping cart with so many varieties of fruits and vegetables looks too extensive from my perspective, and complitely unnecessary for a healthy life style. I think the importance of food variety and the idea of having constant rainbow in your fridge/om your plate is unnecessary exaggerated.

      Reply
    4. Firebird

      I made a nice Italian side dish in a crock pot last week consisting of eggplant, zucchini, diced tomatoes, onions with Italian sausage. Did not cost a lot and it lasted a week.

      Reply
    5. Sara S

      Some groups are working to address this issue. Here in central Arkansas, there is a group teaching a class called Cooking Matters, showing low-income folks how to cook inexpensive, nutritious meals. The church I work for will be hosting some of the classes and we will be providing the families with a bin full of all of the tools (including pots and pans) to recreate the recipes. I think this is a great way to “teach a man to fish.”

      Reply
    6. Susan

      My 18 year old niece was visiting a few weeks ago, and I offered to cook eggs and bacon for her breakfast. She asked me if I knew how to cook the egg where the “yellow part” is creamy. She didn’t even now it was called a fried egg. I couldn’t believe it. With the exception of one time, she had only been served scrambled eggs. She had no cooking skills at all. Well, now she knows how to cook a fried egg, because I made her cook one for herself.

      Reply
  8. gollum

    Central Europe has a vast network of discount store chains that sound like “Aldel” or “Lidi” and most of these stock basic produce and fruits. (If too expensive for their rather low nutritional value.)

    If there are regions not covered it would be the deep countryside with 23 inmate villages. So the busybodies cannot create bullshit work about food deserts in cities here.

    You know what’s our busybodies (who are, incidentally,(partially) government sponsored “NGOs”) latest innovation now? A “study” about [i]sugar content in soft drinks[/i]. Yes. Apparently sugar being a key component of soft drink is news for Lugenpresse victims.

    I was like, [i]soft drinks have never been health food anyway[/i] and [i]It is printed right on the bottle, as much sugar as fruit juice has usually[/i]. But then I have this terrible thing called common sense.

    Reply
    1. Stephen T

      Aldi and Lidl, both German in origin. They’re very good value and have grown rapidly in the UK and taken business from the older dominant companies. They tend to be sited in mixed or poorer areas, but the middle classes shop there in a way that wouldn’t have happened ten years ago. They sell a good array of fruit, vegetables, fish and meat and all the usual sugar and carb laden rubbish. I don’t think anyone could seriously suggest that healthy food isn’t available to poor people, but they do tend to buy junk. The sort of junk the Government has told people to eat, heavily influenced by vested interests. Good quality full fat food is easily available and I believe its sales are increasing. I can choose from at least six high-quality butters or yoghurts, for example. But the aisles are still dominated by processed rubbish and there’s still a long way to go.

      Reply
  9. Firebird

    I emailed this to you, Tom, but I am including it here for others to view. I think it is brilliant. The entire neighborhood is growing sustainable gardens of fruits and vegetables while living in the desert. Kudos to Tucson for having an open mind about it.

    As a farmer I thought you’d appreciate it.

    Reply
  10. Jan

    In a comedy of errors that included an unexpected bun in the oven, interfering inlaws, an idiot of an Obamacare doctor fresh out of her residency and a bewildered CPS worker (trust me, it would take HOURS to explain this), my daughter found herself in a WIC office.

    In the course of her latest visit with the WIC people, her case worker asked her, as if anticipating a negative answer, “Do you ever shop at the farmer’s market?”

    Mostly she shops in our vast backyard vegetable garden, but my daughter replied, “Oh, yes!”

    The woman perked right up and told her she qualified for vouchers that allowed her to spend the equivalent of a whopping $25 a month at the local farmer’s market.

    “Hardly anyone ever takes them, though,” the woman said (but that didn’t mean my daughter could have more than her allotted $25 worth of vouchers, of course).

    Hardly anyone ever takes them…and we don’t even live in a food desert.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Yup, and next they’ll spend money on advertising to encourage people to take the vouchers they didn’t request.

      Reply
      1. Bob Niland

        We were at an area farmer’s market yesterday, and there was a booth there giving away what appeared to be some local or state tokens for people of certain class classifications to spend there.

        This is eventually going to corrupt the farmer’s markets, as scammers figure out that they can buy cheap conventional (chemical laden GMO) veggies at Walmart, and sell them for more at FM. And heck, as long as they are willing to cheat the subsidy system, they’ll probably falsely claim organic and non-GMO so they can charge even more.

        Reply
        1. Jan

          There are already resellers at some farmer’s markets in our area (NE Ohio), and they are usually vendors at the markets that take the government vouchers. You can tell because they often sell out-of-season produce – think melons in June and strawberries in September – and, hilariously, often dress like the Amish. The “good” or “quality” markets have a vetting process, which requires the organizers of said market to visit their farm and check their bona fides.

          Reply
  11. lemoutongris

    For one thing, if #newspeakliberal (among whom annointed ones are chosen) didn’t fight tooth and nails for places that actually give access to fresh foods like Wal Mart, the problem (if there is one) wouldn’t be as widespreaded.

    Also, if the annointed really cared for the environment, they would actually encourage more food imports – where it’s produced more efficiently. The present agricultural policy is based on the candlemaker petition: we need protection from unfair foreign competition! Right, using that logic we need to grow pineapples and coconuts in Alaska. If you haven’t read the book (THe Locavore Dilemna, by Pierre Desrochers and his Japanese wife whose name I forget), this is an absolute must

    Reply
  12. Galina L.

    Nowadays a healthy food is the food which you eat, but don’t actually get any calories. Not a good idea for poor people – to spend their scarce money on beautifully colored undigested fiber and water. Raw or lightly cooked vegetables are hard to digest. Children eat produce at a dinner table mostly when it is drenched in fat. I know some low income people – they work couple minimal wage jobs, don’t have much time for cooking and other household chores like shopping and cleaning, which takes way more time than cooking itself, ans even less time and energy to argue with their children about food.

    Reply
  13. HxH

    So frustrating. Their “solution” is to tax the unhealthy foods that are made predominantly with government subsidized crops. Wouldn’t eliminating farm subsidies remedy the “unhealthy food must become more expensive” part? They want more of our money when they can actually save money to get the effect they want.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Bingo. If we’re going to ask government to (ahem) “fix” the problem, let’s start by getting rid of subsidies. That we’re actually we’re actually spend less taxpayer money instead of more.

      Reply
      1. Bob Niland

        re: …let’s start by getting rid of subsidies.

        Could happen. We lately watched a documentary that had convinced itself that industrial chemicals are the #1 suspect in adverse health trends – flame-retardant chemical in fabrics in particular, in California, where such chems were mandatory.

        The show was lamenting the failure to get these mandatory chems banned. The real solution, of course, was to repeal the mandate, which apparently has happened. What’s mandatory now is a label if FR is still present (the solution to the unintended consequences of any law has to include at least one new law, I suppose).

        I agree, by the way, that non-native halogens are a major problem in health trends. They aren’t #1 on my list, but they are up there. People are routinely exposed to a lot of things potentially more troubling than polybrominated diphenyl ethers; chloramine in municipal drinking water, for example.

        Reply
      2. Brandon

        I grew up in a farming region and both my father and his father were farmers. I was raised with the belief (obviously biased) that subsidies were good for the region, particularly as it was filled with many family farms. When my grandfather passed, none of his children could afford to buy the land individually and it wasn’t large enough to sustain a multifamily income. It was bought in auction by a local “superfarm family” that routinely bought up smaller estates (around 1000 acres) and had amassed around 15,000 acres. From my observation, it seems like the argument that the subsidies helps small family farmers has lost merit over time (if it ever had any in the first place) as my family’s example happens to many in the area. It often requires too much capital to take over a farm, unless it is passed on completely debt free, and it’s nearly impossible to get into farming without amassing most of the assets through inheritance. The real benefit to the farm subsidies appears to be to the larger farmers, agricultural and food companies that get to operate at a reduced cost due to the subsidy often believed to support the nation’s “local family farmers.”

        Reply
  14. Isabel

    I’ve been a grocery cart observer for a long time. I watch what other people are buying and here is my observational opinion:

    Many people do not have the skills, tools and time to cook real food.

    The young mom with 3 kids is buying instant noodles, frozen pizza, juice boxes and maybe some bananas.
    The older man is buying sandwich meat, white bread and chips.
    The middle aged woman is buying frozen meals and popcorn.

    My cart is filled with with 8 different vegetables, 5 types of fruit, fresh chicken and ground beef, frozen fish or shrimp, eggs, butter, etc.

    We should give these people cutting boards, knives and peelers. We should teach them what to do with a zucchini and a chunk of meat. Most of them have never tasted asparagus, eggplant or salmon. We need to show them how easy and economical it is to cook real meals.

    I blame the absence of home economics in the schools. If your mom never showed you how to boil a pound of beans, make a pot of soup, bake a potato or toss a salad, then somebody else needs to teach you. We are going into a third generation of people with no kitchen skills, I can tell just by looking at their grocery cart.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I see a lot of junk in grocery carts too, but I don’t think it’s up to us to intervene. If people want to switch to a better diet, they’ll find the information. If not, that’s their business.

      Reply
    2. BobM

      Has anyone ever thought that maybe people can’t afford some of this? Or maybe due to limited funds, they have to get the highest amount of calories for their dollars?

      Even if poor people eat meat, it has to be cheap. You won’t find them buying salmon or organic, farm-raised chickens. We buy pretty much all organic, whole foods, and lots of high quality meat. But our grocery bill for a month for a family of four is probably more than some people make per month. Try pricing a grass-fed steak or grass-fed yoghurt some time (where grass-fed = from cows that are fed only grass).

      For instance, you state “Most of them have never tasted asparagus, eggplant or salmon.” Could you have selected a group of items that’s more expensive than this? Asparagus has to be one of the most expensive vegetables you can buy. Ditto for salmon. (And even I rarely — if ever — eat eggplant.)

      And if you’re poor, you’re most likely a manual laborer. Try working construction and eating salad. You’ll waste away and die. You need calories, and if you’re poor, you’re going to get those calories through foods like pasta and anything else that’s cheap.

      Reply
      1. Lissa

        BobM,

        I am a divorced mom living with two kids– teens who eat a lot. We just barely make it over the “poverty level” with my salary plus some little child support.

        Yet, my grocery cart always has organic produce, organic or grass fed butter, organic milk and dairy, some grass fed hamburger.

        Our cart NEVER even gets close to half full though.

        But my kids eat plenty of whole foods, meat and potatoes..plus some good old bacon …and eggs from pastured chickens.

        Oh yeah — We don’t eat a lot of asparagus or eggplant either! But I buy my organic broccoli FROZEN….. a bag of that is less than a Big Mac! And occasionally even wild caught salmon frozen — its quite affordable that way.

        Of course, we can do all that, Bob, because we don’t have the latest cell phones or game systems, $100 sneakers, or the newest big screen TV’s. I will wear the same couple of pairs of shoes for several years. I use the same handbag for years. I am willing to shop second hand.

        The thing is Bob……..the poor people where I live FILL their grocery carts to overflowing the top with all kinds of stuff — because they use entitlement programs to pay for the food. They usually take that Access Card out of a really nice looking, expensive bag, which — of course, holds the latest model smartphone.

        Once you see that type of thing in front of you at the checkout aisle a hundred times….you realize that no one below the poverty level is forced to buy shi##y food.

        They choose to spend their money on things other than whole foods.

        Reply
        1. Bonnie

          Kids are grown up now, but we do the same. Being senior citizens we qualify for a local non-profit’s farmers market vouchers – we get $80 worth at the beginning of the summer. We are fortunate to have a garden so we get fresh asparagus, herbs, & berries, & a few other things that we grow ourselves. I wish we had a pasture – I’d raise a steer for the freezer. I can’t afford fresh or even frozen salmon, but canned salmon is good – & fairly cheap.

          But please don’t judge smart phones! I have a nice one, but it’s the only way I can get Internet. We no longer have a land line – turns out the smart phone is cheaper.

          Reply
    3. Galina L.

      To tell you the truth , loading your shopping cart with so many varieties of fruits and vegetables looks too extensive from my perspective, and complitely unnecessary for a healthy life style. I think the importance of food variety and the idea of having constant rainbow in your fridge/om your plate is unnecessary exaggerated.

      Reply
    4. Firebird

      I made a nice Italian side dish in a crock pot last week consisting of eggplant, zucchini, diced tomatoes, onions with Italian sausage. Did not cost a lot and it lasted a week.

      Reply
    5. Sara S

      Some groups are working to address this issue. Here in central Arkansas, there is a group teaching a class called Cooking Matters, showing low-income folks how to cook inexpensive, nutritious meals. The church I work for will be hosting some of the classes and we will be providing the families with a bin full of all of the tools (including pots and pans) to recreate the recipes. I think this is a great way to “teach a man to fish.”

      Reply
    6. Susan

      My 18 year old niece was visiting a few weeks ago, and I offered to cook eggs and bacon for her breakfast. She asked me if I knew how to cook the egg where the “yellow part” is creamy. She didn’t even now it was called a fried egg. I couldn’t believe it. With the exception of one time, she had only been served scrambled eggs. She had no cooking skills at all. Well, now she knows how to cook a fried egg, because I made her cook one for herself.

      Reply
  15. Joanne

    Makes one wonder if Aldis and WalMart Neighborhood Markets are already subsidized by some government program (plan).

    Reply
    1. Eric from Belgium

      I would sincerely doubt government sponsorship…
      Aldi and Lidl are in Europe becoming major players in the retail world. They are labeled ‘hard discounters’ for a reason.
      I understand that their business model is to cut costs wherever possible and be as efficient as possible. (both companies are german….)
      I do not know about the situation in US, but over here they tend to locate in low rent areas and hardly sell and brand name products (but most of their ‘clone’ products are probably manufactured by the same brand name factories)
      They do sell a lot of fresh produce, and thanks to faster inventory rotation the produce is much fresher than most of their competitors.
      Now in fairness, not all of their products are the best there is, and they will sell what people want to buy. But – at least over here – you can find all you need to cook fresh from scratch.
      Just my $0.02…

      Reply
  16. Firebird

    I emailed this to you, Tom, but I am including it here for others to view. I think it is brilliant. The entire neighborhood is growing sustainable gardens of fruits and vegetables while living in the desert. Kudos to Tucson for having an open mind about it.

    As a farmer I thought you’d appreciate it.

    Reply
  17. Tom Welsh

    Tom, you apparently got so distracted by the Anointed and their Grand Plans that you completely forgot to make the obvious point that healthy food is not just fruit and vegetables. Indeed, for some of us, fruit is an occasional luxury – perhaps less to be indulged in than alcohol or chocolate. What about eggs? What about BACON – the KING of foods? And liver, and salmon, and organic grass-fed beef and lamb and venison? (Well, I guess all lamb and venison is grass-fed, but just for consistency…) What about wonderful aged cheeses? Cream?? Butter??? Well, you get my drift. Mrs Obama has managed to build her fantasy world on a fundamental mistake: healthy food = fruit & vegetables.

    Incidentally, all my experience tells me that healthy food is extremely expensive, compared to most people’s food budgets. That’s why they subsist on burgers and fries and Coke and bread and cakes and cookies. They might possibly prefer steak and salmon and organic vegetables, but they can’t afford them.

    Reply
  18. Dianne

    Good grief — this idiocy is right on a par with the kind of logic that inflicted new math on grade school kids back in the sixties.

    Reply
      1. Dianne

        I escaped it too, but a little girl I was babysitting asked me to help her with her homework one time, and I couldn’t make heads nor tails of it. It made me glad that I got through school before that nonsense came along!

        Reply
  19. wte9

    I can already tell you that if you point this out to them that the response will be, “Oh, we just need to educate them so they buy all the goods foods!” I know this because I’m related to one. As is liberals’ wont, if their policies don’t work, they will reason that their failure can only be because they have not yet implemented enough policies to immaentize the eschateon.

    Reply
  20. Onlooker

    Ah yes, another brilliant success by our overlords. Of course one reason so many people (over and above the regular busybodies and patronizing elitists) feel compelled and entitled to butt into everybody’s eating habits is that the govt is paying so much of the medical bill. It’s really insidious, as people who would never have cared what people are eating (like so-called conservatives) are outraged that they have to pay the healthcare bill for junk foodies (and I’m very sympathetic).

    It’s just another facet of the ever-growing monstrosity that is modern govt. All the incentives go towards more and more growth and meddling.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton

      People who get upset because they’re paying the health bill for people with lousy diets are, of course, pointing to the wrong end of the problem.

      Reply
  21. Joanne

    Makes one wonder if Aldis and WalMart Neighborhood Markets are already subsidized by some government program (plan).

    Reply
    1. Eric from Belgium

      I would sincerely doubt government sponsorship…
      Aldi and Lidl are in Europe becoming major players in the retail world. They are labeled ‘hard discounters’ for a reason.
      I understand that their business model is to cut costs wherever possible and be as efficient as possible. (both companies are german….)
      I do not know about the situation in US, but over here they tend to locate in low rent areas and hardly sell and brand name products (but most of their ‘clone’ products are probably manufactured by the same brand name factories)
      They do sell a lot of fresh produce, and thanks to faster inventory rotation the produce is much fresher than most of their competitors.
      Now in fairness, not all of their products are the best there is, and they will sell what people want to buy. But – at least over here – you can find all you need to cook fresh from scratch.
      Just my $0.02…

      Reply
  22. Tom Welsh

    Tom, you apparently got so distracted by the Anointed and their Grand Plans that you completely forgot to make the obvious point that healthy food is not just fruit and vegetables. Indeed, for some of us, fruit is an occasional luxury – perhaps less to be indulged in than alcohol or chocolate. What about eggs? What about BACON – the KING of foods? And liver, and salmon, and organic grass-fed beef and lamb and venison? (Well, I guess all lamb and venison is grass-fed, but just for consistency…) What about wonderful aged cheeses? Cream?? Butter??? Well, you get my drift. Mrs Obama has managed to build her fantasy world on a fundamental mistake: healthy food = fruit & vegetables.

    Incidentally, all my experience tells me that healthy food is extremely expensive, compared to most people’s food budgets. That’s why they subsist on burgers and fries and Coke and bread and cakes and cookies. They might possibly prefer steak and salmon and organic vegetables, but they can’t afford them.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Of course. That’s the other side of this disaster: The Anointed got it all wrong about what constitutes a good diet.

      Reply
  23. Dianne

    Good grief — this idiocy is right on a par with the kind of logic that inflicted new math on grade school kids back in the sixties.

    Reply
      1. Dianne

        I escaped it too, but a little girl I was babysitting asked me to help her with her homework one time, and I couldn’t make heads nor tails of it. It made me glad that I got through school before that nonsense came along!

        Reply
  24. wte9

    I can already tell you that if you point this out to them that the response will be, “Oh, we just need to educate them so they buy all the goods foods!” I know this because I’m related to one. As is liberals’ wont, if their policies don’t work, they will reason that their failure can only be because they have not yet implemented enough policies to immaentize the eschateon.

    Reply
  25. Onlooker

    Ah yes, another brilliant success by our overlords. Of course one reason so many people (over and above the regular busybodies and patronizing elitists) feel compelled and entitled to butt into everybody’s eating habits is that the govt is paying so much of the medical bill. It’s really insidious, as people who would never have cared what people are eating (like so-called conservatives) are outraged that they have to pay the healthcare bill for junk foodies (and I’m very sympathetic).

    It’s just another facet of the ever-growing monstrosity that is modern govt. All the incentives go towards more and more growth and meddling.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      People who get upset because they’re paying the health bill for people with lousy diets are, of course, pointing to the wrong end of the problem.

      Reply
  26. j

    Hey maybe theyll do an Obamacare style tax..where if you dont prove youre eating veggies youll get penalized. I can see the non-working, over budget website now…

    Regarding supermarkets being a mile or more away, that sounds like a great opportunity for exercise called walking..?

    Reply
  27. Mark

    “nearly 10 percent of the U.S. population lived in a low-income area more than a mile from a supermarket”. That right there should have shot down their entire argument in one fell swoop. How can you have obesity rates up around 50% (I believe) and yet only 1 out of 10 people can’t get easy access to fresh food?

    Reply
  28. Mark

    “nearly 10 percent of the U.S. population lived in a low-income area more than a mile from a supermarket”. That right there should have shot down their entire argument in one fell swoop. How can you have obesity rates up around 50% (I believe) and yet only 1 out of 10 people can’t get easy access to fresh food?

    Reply
      1. gollum

        Yes, delusional belief cannot be shattered by any facts.

        You got an example right here. “XYZ does not work, I acknowledge that, but I still think it is important. It is sending a message, educating the populace, DOING SOMETHING”.

        Incidentally one of the comedian routines is to blame doctors with that kind of unthinking. “I shall have to forbid you something else, then.”

        Even inherent contradictions are no harm to the True Believer. Here is a nice one I heard yesterday:

        We must celebrate diversity because we are all the same.

        Reply
        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          Reminds of something I often say about loony lefties: “I’m a nonconformist — just like all my friends.”

          Reply
        2. Walter Bushell

          Re: Doing Something”

          There’s been a horrid crime; we must convict someone’; Joe Smith is someone convict him.”

          Unfortunaterly that is the logic^W mentation of many prosecutors who are, of curse, amongst the anointed and they naturally act the same as the nutritional police. The flagrant not to say fragrent reluctance to turn over to the defense evidence in favor of the defendant only one example.

          Reply
  29. Lisa

    I didn’t learn that vegetables can be delicious until I moved to China at age 39. As long as the anointed fail to mention explain how fruits and vegetables can be delicious (outlawing the phrase “steamed vegetables” would be good start), then lots of people won’t touch them.

    Hint: Stir fry them with salt and fresh minced garlic . Add a little chili, rice wine, ginger, and chicken flavor powder, maybe throw in some small pieces of stir fried meat, and you have a real winner. Love my vegetables now!

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton

      Yup, I didn’t think I liked vegetables all that much until I started cooking them with plenty of good fats.

      Reply
  30. Lisa

    I didn’t learn that vegetables can be delicious until I moved to China at age 39. As long as the anointed fail to mention explain how fruits and vegetables can be delicious (outlawing the phrase “steamed vegetables” would be good start), then lots of people won’t touch them.

    Hint: Stir fry them with salt and fresh minced garlic . Add a little chili, rice wine, ginger, and chicken flavor powder, maybe throw in some small pieces of stir fried meat, and you have a real winner. Love my vegetables now!

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Yup, I didn’t think I liked vegetables all that much until I started cooking them with plenty of good fats.

      Reply
  31. Lori Miller

    The Anointed are assuming that poor people are so stupid that when they choose a place to live, they don’t give a moment’s thought as to how they’re going to get to the grocery store–or wherever it is that they buy food.

    As for price, yes, it’s a lot cheaper to eat healthy food from the grocery store than go to McDonald’s. The Kroger in my neighborhood (which is close to the ghetto) has chicken for 88 cents a pound, pork chops for $1.77 a pound, and beef shoulder steak for $3.49 a pound. A variety of fruits and vegetables are 88 cents a pound. Compare that to $6 for a chicken salad or a big burger from Mickey D’s. The store is on a bus line, with frequents stops, to and from the ‘hood. There’s a great coop in the hood I’ve written about here before, but most of the customers are hipsters or part of the yoga pants crowd or suburbanites on an adventure.

    Finally, check out this map of Indianapolis food deserts. That “food desert” in the upper right corner by the reservoir is Ft. Harrison State Park.
    http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/files/2014/05/food.png

    Reply
  32. Lori Miller

    The Anointed are assuming that poor people are so stupid that when they choose a place to live, they don’t give a moment’s thought as to how they’re going to get to the grocery store–or wherever it is that they buy food.

    As for price, yes, it’s a lot cheaper to eat healthy food from the grocery store than go to McDonald’s. The Kroger in my neighborhood (which is close to the ghetto) has chicken for 88 cents a pound, pork chops for $1.77 a pound, and beef shoulder steak for $3.49 a pound. A variety of fruits and vegetables are 88 cents a pound. Compare that to $6 for a chicken salad or a big burger from Mickey D’s. The store is on a bus line, with frequents stops, to and from the ‘hood. There’s a great coop in the hood I’ve written about here before, but most of the customers are hipsters or part of the yoga pants crowd or suburbanites on an adventure.

    Finally, check out this map of Indianapolis food deserts. That “food desert” in the upper right corner by the reservoir is Ft. Harrison State Park.
    http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/files/2014/05/food.png

    Reply
  33. Charsi

    Back in grad school, a professor of mine studied food deserts and basically found no evidence that “food desertness” influences dietary behaviors in any way. Not sure if he published anything, because food deserts reached peak “settled science” status really quickly and with very little actual science. Academic journals don’t like to publish things too far against the grain.

    Reply
  34. Charsi

    Back in grad school, a professor of mine studied food deserts and basically found no evidence that “food desertness” influences dietary behaviors in any way. Not sure if he published anything, because food deserts reached peak “settled science” status really quickly and with very little actual science. Academic journals don’t like to publish things too far against the grain.

    Reply
  35. Dana

    This issue reminds me of something a friend that volunteers at a food shelf told me about. She mentioned that when they are given fresh fruits/vegetabels/meats to offer, the items are not taken. Nobody wants them, they cannot give them away! She said the first things to go are the boxed rice/pastas/potatoes.
    If this is the case, I can see why some stores would not be able to sell these items. You can’t even give them away for free. I guess they’ll have to start paying people to take vegetables home and throw them in the garbage :).

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton

      As Dr. Eric Oliver told me during our interview, the USDA’s own research shows that subsidizing vegetables wouldn’t do the trick. We’d actually have to pay people to eat them.

      Reply
  36. Dana

    This issue reminds me of something a friend that volunteers at a food shelf told me about. She mentioned that when they are given fresh fruits/vegetabels/meats to offer, the items are not taken. Nobody wants them, they cannot give them away! She said the first things to go are the boxed rice/pastas/potatoes.
    If this is the case, I can see why some stores would not be able to sell these items. You can’t even give them away for free. I guess they’ll have to start paying people to take vegetables home and throw them in the garbage :).

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      As Dr. Eric Oliver told me during our interview, the USDA’s own research shows that subsidizing vegetables wouldn’t do the trick. We’d actually have to pay people to eat them.

      Reply

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