According to the USDA, Food Deserts are defined as "parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers."
My good friend Rashid is a very popular guy. He's a D.J. and he cuts hair for a living, so he meets and talks to a lot of different people. People share a lot of information with their hair stylists, which means Rashid hears a lot about peoples' health issues. He is convinced that due to my experience working in natural food stores that I am way more knowledgable about health and wellness than I actually am. He often passes my phone number along to people who have issues with their health, and from time to time they actually call me. There are some very interesting conversations that we have about the chronic and acute health conditions they are experiencing, and what their actions have been thus far in addressing the problem. Mostly, the response has been a litany of stories about pain, hospital visits, drugs, disappointments, more drugs, depression, and finally a decision to seek an alternative opinion (This is when I usually receive a call).
My first response to these calls is always to make sure people understand that I am in no way a physician, nutritionist, or therapist, and that any information I share is based on my experience from working almost three decades in the natural food industry. Second, I try to emphasize the importance of proper diet and nutrition to support any healing or wellness program. I am keenly aware of the lack of attention given to fundamental nutrition best practices in our society not to mention the outright bombardment of misinformation and advertising to encourage the purchase and consumption of products that may be addiction forming, and detrimental to our overall health. I inform them that anything I suggest should be discussed with their physician to ensure that there will be no complications or disruptions to any regiment they are on. Sometimes I educate people about herbs or supplements I've known to be effective, but mostly what I talk to people about are choices. The choices they have made around lifestyle. What their diet consisted of before their medical issues, and what dietary choices they are making now.
I believe that we make choices based on the information we have, and the best way I can help anyone is to give them the resources to help themselves. I find that most times when I talk about herbs or supplements I am speaking a language the average person doesn't understand, so I'm careful to try to spell things out. I'm a huge proponent of empowerment through self study, and I often refer people to two books that are readily available, Prescription for Nutritional Healing by Phyllis A. Balch, and The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine by Michael T. Murray. I've used these books interchangeably over the years, and found them extremely useful in helping me make better informed decisions about my choices for health and wellness.
The underlying issue is that we should feel compelled to address the fact that many of us have such limited access to healthy food options. When I think about the health issues faced by many people in urban and rural communities that could have been prevented through dietary best practices, I reflect on my upbringing and how grocery shopping often required a "plan of action" due to distance, schedule, and other limitations. The lack of exposure to what I now consider common fruits and vegetables probably limited most of our culinary choices, and influenced a diet that was static and dependent on heavily processed packaged goods with low nutritional value. The results of these circumstances are in direct relationship to the statistics on the incidence of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity that plagues these communities.
The power to change and transform food deserts into vibrant, food secure communities lies in the hands of the people of the community. I grow food as a way to ensure available healthy food for my community, and I offer workshops and classes at my small organic farm to encourage and support others who grow food. Community gardens have the capacity to provide similar opportunities. Consumer Food Cooperatives are another way of empowering underserved communities by providing convenient food access, and generating local economies. Also, existing convenience stores should be challenged to carry healthier food options that support the well being of the communities they serve.
I believe we should consider whatever options available to try and reduce the occurrence and effects of food inequality in our communities, and I remain committed to the challenge of overcoming these surmountable obstacles by remaining actively dedicated to this cause. If you live in a community with limited healthy food choices, you also have the power to effect change by informing yourself and becoming a local "food activist" in your community. I hope this has been helpful information, and that the reader is inspired to help achieve food security for all. In sincerity and Good Health, Love The People. Feed The People!