The Pnyx: On food deserts

Joshua Schuetz
Staff Writer

Far too many Americans do not have adequate access to nutritious food. There are numerous reasons for this. One of them is the existence of food deserts. Food deserts are defined as areas wherein there are no businesses which provide fresh food (i.e., grocery stores, farmers markets, or other sources of fresh food) especially produce. 

Food deserts are usually found in low-income urban neighborhoods, but they are common in rural areas as well. 

In large metropolitan areas, it’s often difficult to get a business loan to start a small grocery store or similar business in a low-income area. Moreover, local licensing laws often make street vending, a particularly common type of food business with low startup costs, illegal or too expensive to engage in.

In rural areas, population loss and long distances to the nearest market either lead to a complete lack of grocery stores or the presence of a single one that, due to its monopoly, can charge more for its products than would otherwise be the case.

Broadly speaking, the problem has a number of solutions. Food shelves can help, especially if they network with larger providers of rescue food (good produce that would otherwise find its way into a dumpster) and are locally run. Schools can help too, by making sure that kids get enough nutritious food in their lunches. 

Another option is to create special tax credits or funding sources for entrepreneurs who want to start a small shop in the neighborhood. That will bring wealth into a community as well as fill a need. Removing restrictions on street vendors, especially those who deal in fresh produce, is another excellent idea.

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