First lady Michelle Obama is here in Chicago today, appearing with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, to draw attention to the issue of “food deserts” — communities across the country, nearly all of them lower-income, that lack healthful food options because of a dearth of supermarkets and farmers’ markets.
It just happens that Mari Gallagher, a friend who I met through my networking activities since moving to Chicago, is one of the nation’s leading researchers and advocates on the food desert issue. And she released a report today that finds one of every seven Chicago residents has no convenient access to healthful foods.
Mari also notes that billions of dollars in federal food assistance are going to what she calls “fringe” outlets — authorized to participate in what used to be known as the food stamp program before it went all-electronic — that sell little to no nutritious food, but do sell a lot of junk food.
Her goal, and that of her allies in the movement, is to persuade more supermarkets and other legitimate food vendors to locate in under-served communities, while pressing for the government to reform the USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) so that money is steered to nutritious food options and away from those that contribute to the nation’s malnutrition and obesity problems.
It is hard for most of us to imagine not having a decent food store within walking distance, no less having to travel miles by mass transit just to get food for ourselves and our families. After I finish this post, I am going to walk over to the Whole Foods on Halsted to get a few items that they didn’t have at Trader Joe’s on Diversey. In between is a big Jewel/Osco chain grocery store on Addison, and dozens of specialty food shops in the Lakeview neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side.
But this is an issue that affects all of us, even if we’re fortunate enough to have lots of food options. If you care about economic and social equity, or about health care and wellness, or about proper stewardship of taxpayers’ dollars, this is an issue in which you should be interested.
With that, I will let Mari’s press release speak for itself. A link to her report and her website address are embedded.
FOOD DESERT DRILLDOWN: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 24, 2011
Mari Gallagher, Mari Gallagher Research & Consulting Group
NEW RESEARCH REVEALS ONE IN SEVEN CHICAGOANS LACKS ACCESS TO HEALTHY FOOD
Mari Gallagher Research & Consulting Group today released the 2011 Chicago Food Desert Drilldown, which provides new analysis and maps of current Food Desert conditions.
While the Food Desert has declined nearly 40 percent over the past five years since the firm’s original 2006 landmark study, serious health and retail challenges persist, Gallagher said. The Drilldown provides details including:
The Food Desert population could fill U.S. Cellular Field to capacity ten times over with its nearly 384,000 residents. 70 percent are African American.
Of that number, more than 124,000 are children, the population of Naperville, Illinois.
Chicago’s Food Desert children could fill to capacity 2,484 school buses. If all of these busses lined up bumper-to-bumper, they would stretch from President Obama’s Chicago house in Hyde Park, to City Hall on LaSalle Street, and then to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s house.
Nearly 70,000 Food Desert households are headed by single women with children.
40,000 Food Desert households do not own cars.
Based on the Drilldown, Gallagher said the target date to eliminate the Chicago Food Desert completely should be 2015, as more and more grocers have announced plans to enter the Food Desert and strategic data can identify the highest impact sites. The firm will repeat the analysis every six months beginning in early 2012 until this is accomplished.
Gallagher also stressed that over 880 million dollars from the USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – formerly known as Food Stamps), flowed through Chicago in 2010, and that many of the Food Desert SNAP stores are “fringe” meaning that they sell very little if any healthful food.
“SNAP is a vital program, but we need to both enforce and raise the standards,” Gallagher said. “Especially at a time when budgets are being slashed everywhere, we must ensure that SNAP promotes good food, public health, and is an economic development engine.”
Gallagher’s original Chicago report found statistically significant relationships between Food Desert conditions and more premature diet-related death after controlling for other key factors. That report motivated Congressman Bobby Rush to enter Food Desert language into the Farm Bill and helped popularize the term Food Desert nationally.
TO DOWNLOAD THE FULL REPORT, VISIT www.marigallagher.com go to projects and scroll down to recently released.