Food Deserts—Not just a Low-Income Problem!
Have you heard of a Food Desert or a Food Oasis? According to the dictionary, a Food Desert is an urban area in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good quality fresh food. The next line said, “many poor people live in food deserts—where they have plenty of food but none of it healthy”. I think there is a problem when defining food deserts only in low-income areas. I think food deserts exist in homes where too much processed and fake food is consumed. And many high-income area homes are full of highly processed, low nutritional value, fake food.
What is “fake food”???? And what isn’t??? Dry Pasta is not fake food. Microwavable bowls of Neon Orange Mac & Cheese is fake food. Frozen Fruit is not fake food. Squeezable cartons of smashed, mashed, sugary fruit is fake food. (I have seen a grown man sucking on one of these cartons and thought I was going to gag!!). Fake food is usually in a disposable carton that adds cost and waste while the food inside has very little nutritional value. It’s portable and has a long shelf life—but most of the ingredients sound like a chemistry list, not a grocery list.
Another type of “fake food” is all the supplemental foods. Companies like Soylent pitch their shakes as “all you need” but they are so far from complete in terms of fiber and so high in processed fats.
I realize that there are times we need a “to go” meal, but there are so many REAL FOODS that can be taken on the road, there really is no need for all this fake food.
As hunters and gatherers, we’ve always had to adapt, and God has provided so many beautiful options— Hundreds of Options: Fruits, Vegetables, Nuts
And as we have developed ways to store food (refrigeration) our options have expanded. Think of the scene in the movie, Driving Miss Daisy. They have packed a meal (maybe the soda wasn’t ice cold) for their cross-country trip because stopping for fast food wasn’t an option. They prepared and packed what they needed.
How do we turn our homes/communities/office desk drawers into a food oasis and not a food desert?
Awareness—it always starts here. What are you eating? Buying? Giving to your kids? Really look at your grocery list and then the cart. Do you see lots of packaging? If yes, you are getting more fake than real food.
Benefit– Think Long Term. Yes, fresh fruits and veggies can be expensive, but diseases are expensive too. Here is a stat to consider: $71B in healthcare cost due to chronic disease that could be saved with healthier eating. A few dollars on fresh fruit now is worth that co-pay you will spend on blood pressure meds later.
Care–The best way to budget for fresh is to not waste it. Don’t buy too much—if you know you are taking your lunch 3 days then buy 3 apples. If you know that every morning you want to make a smoothie, then freeze bananas that have turned too soft, and use them.
Don’t Confuse Convenience for Nutritious—At any convenience store, you can find fresh fruit, cheese, V8 drinks, packages of nuts just as you can find high fat, high sodium sausage biscuits, pizza slices, and milkshakes. You may spend the same amount, but you get ZERO value if you go with the high fat/high sodium and will most likely be hungry soon. Check out this post on Eat This Not That:
Evaluate the impact on the Environment–I am not going to tell you to eat only plant-based or only organic. Those are choices that must be made by each person. But what I would like to see is a reduction in all the processed/packaged/fake stuff we are now putting in our kid’s lunch boxes, taking on trips, and eating at our desks. We are not doing our bodies or the environment any good with all these science experiments that we now call FOOD.
Find the Time to Prep—Boil a couple of eggs while you are making dinner and put them in the refrigerator for a quick breakfast or to add to a salad. Wash and Cut up Fruit—it makes a great snack for after school/work. Cook up some extra pasta then toss with tuna, veggies, and dressing for a fast and filling lunch.
Get Your Family Involved—try different options. Granny Smith Apples may be too tart for little ones, they may like Golden Delicious better or Pears may be a better option. Most kids like to “experience” food—they want to touch it, they like the bright colors, so let them play with their food. Happy eaters may make a mess of their high chair trays and the floor around them, but I would rather clean up the mess than watch them “squeeze” some apple flavored goop into their mouths.
Healthy Home—sure we can all have “junk food” night! Or Cheat Day as it is now called. But let’s be sure that is the exception and not the norm. Think Oasis or Desert????? Where do you want to be?
Invest in yourself—priorities! Ever heard the saying “Health is Wealth” or “You are what you Eat”. Both of these are true! And you do have the POWER to control what is going into your body. I have seen a few recent negative posts about dollar stores and the fact they only carry sugary, high fat, high salt foods. And I can tell you first hand that YES they do have all of those, BUT if you look in the food aisles you will also find canned beans, canned tomatoes, dried pasta, and some stores now have a frozen section where you can find frozen veggies.
Food Deserts can and do exist in every neighborhood. They are easy, cheap and usually have colorful packaging on them! But you can create your own Food Oasis that can be affordable and colorful—it may take a little extra time now but you may avoid the time in the doctor’s office later!
If you need help evaluating your shopping list or cleaning out your pantry to restock with better options, please give me a call. I would love you help you make the most of your grocery dollars!