Taking a Stand on Food Deserts

Food Deserts in the Boston Area
Food Deserts in the Boston Area

-by Claudia Forrester- Though these facts are not well-known, the apples served in the cafeteria are locally grown, the eggs are cage-free, and the fish is usually caught the day before it is served. These are only a few examples of Mr. Downes’s continuous efforts to provide healthy food options that we Winsor girls all too often take for granted. Though we may be craving French fries instead of the cafeteria’s quinoa and baked haddock, there are many areas of Boston where this easy access to healthy food is a rare commodity.

As a member of Mr Braxton’s mind-blowing senior elective, The Politics of Identity: Race, Class and Gender in the 21st Century, I participated in the the Taking a Stand project. The objective was to identify an issue that you were passionate about, research it thoroughly, and then “take a stand.” The typical Winsor girl, I decided to focus on food–specifically on food deserts in the greater Boston area.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a food desert as a “low-income area that has low levels of access to a grocery store or healthy, affordable food retail outlet.” Instead of supermarkets, these neighborhoods have only fast food restaurants or small corner stores, neither of which offers healthy food options like fresh milk, vegetables, and fruits. Furthermore, the available food is often as much as 30% more expensive than in higher-income areas, because the businesses know that residents cannot afford to travel elsewhere for groceries. Residents are forced to choose between paying for transportation to a suburban supermarket and buying the less healthy available food options. Consequently, living in a food desert, like those that exist all over Boston, gives an individual a statistically higher chance of obesity, heart attack, and other nutrition-related conditions.

Some argue that the existence of food deserts is not an injustice in itself; supermarkets aim to make money, and, therefore, have the right to build stores only where they can make the highest profit. Others complain that “food desert” may be a bit of an extreme term, as food, even healthy food, is available but just inconvenient. But the “inconvenience” of food deserts brings light to the larger problems in our food system. We have allowed our food system to be manipulated by a capitalist system, leaving the U.S. as one of the only countries where the poorest citizens are either fighting hunger or fighting obesity. As Sutton Kiplinger, the Greater Boston Regional Director at the Food Project, noted in an interview I conducted, “The present food system benefits neither the eater, the worker, nor the land. We need to build a sustainable, new system that offers accessible, equitable healthy food”.

The Food Project, a Boston-based non-profit, aims to build such a system. By engaging youth and teenage volunteers in sustainable agriculture, the Food Project is one of many organizations tackling the issue of food access in Boston; others include the Fresh Truck, the Real Food Challenge, and Waltham Fields Community Farm. The produce grown at the Food Project’s farms is used to supply many hunger relief organizations and to sell at affordable prices at farmers markets in Boston-area food deserts.

With a food desert only a mile away from Winsor itself, I would encourage everyone to take a stand on this issue. Whether that means just spreading the word or volunteering at or donating to the Food Project. What Mr Braxton’s course has taught me is that it doesn’t matter what the issue is, but if it matters to you, and you are willing to work for it, you have the power to make a difference.

Image from USDA.gov