The Epidemic of Food Deserts

The percentage of food deserts is on the rise in Seattle.

The epidemic of food deserts has grown tremendously in King County and unincorporated cities. For those unaware of what food deserts are, here is a brief definition: a neighborhood, in which it is particularly urban, where people experience difficulty to afford adequate fresh produce. Residents of these neighborhoods are usually people of color, those who are living in low-income housing, and those that rely on government assistance. For families, lack of available produce can be an even larger issue as it’s especially important for children to get sufficient amounts of fruits and vegetables in their day-to-day diet. Many of the grocery stores that carry fresh produce are out of these families’ price ranges. This disparity results in unhealthy food options such as prepackaged food and fast food. Generally, fast food is a much cheaper option compared to the rapidly increasing price of produce in most general grocery stores. Seattle community member Jacqualine Brown spoke on her knowledge of food deserts and how she felt about them. She herself doesn’t experience any issues in having access to fresh produce but, she has noticed them have a significant impact on Seattle. She points out how large corporations that run grocery stories aren’t connected to their community like local delis and bodegas are. “I think it’s a choice that they make. They are not concerned about the people in the community, they’re more concerned about making a profit.” Brown also talked about what it would take to combat the issue of food deserts across the state. “I think there should be some type of population ratio that says if there’s one hundred people, let’s say, that live in one area then there should be a grocery store in that area,” Brown said. “I know someone in particular that struggles with getting fresh produce and what hinders them is lack of transportation.” Brown said when asked about knowing anyone who experiences roadblocks in accessing fresh produce.
Contrary to larger grocery stores with bigger quantities of produce, smaller produce distributors such as Bartells, corner markets, bodegas, and corner stores, often over-price their product. This is because these smaller stores don’t have the time or space available to store and sell the produce within their time frame. But what if there were government and non-profit organizations offering programs to these small food chains, incentivising them to provide more affordable produce and even freshly prepared meals? Organizations could help supply refrigeration equipment, provide grants to help improve infrastructure, and other necessities to help the stores thrive. Profit shouldn’t be the reason for these stores not being able to provide healthy food to their community, because increasing food options in local stores can encourage people to change their eating habits. Seattle communities of diverse cultures tend to use produce not common in typical American grocery stores. If local stores can provide a wide variety of fresh options they not only can give their community healthier options, but be inclusionary to many families.