Lawmakers find 'food deserts' difficult to fix

Posted April 21, 2014

— A legislative panel offered few solutions Monday to getting fresh produce and other healthy food into communities that lack grocery stores.

Lawmakers created the House Committee on Food Desert Zones after Kroger closed two stores in southeast Raleigh last year.

"A whole community had been built around that grocery store," Rep. Yvonne Holley, D-Wake, said of a defunct Kroger on Martin Luther King Boulevard. "A lot of housing had been built. A senior citizens place had been built where people could walk to the grocery store. So, it was a tremendous loss."

Food deserts are defined as urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy and affordable food.

Without a grocery store nearby, many people are left with convenience stores that often don't carry healthy food options. Poor diets are a major contributor to obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"If you don't have an automobile, where do you go shop, and how is it convenient? It is a problem," said Rep. Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell.

Poverty and hunger are major problems in North Carolina, with nearly one out of every six people in the state receiving some type of food assistance. But help doesn't do much good for people with nowhere to buy the food.

"It's not just food deserts; it's food insecurities," Holley said. "It's not just an (agriculture) problem; it's a health and human services problem that can be solved by business and commerce. So, you know, how do we get all the agencies to talk to each other?"

Starnes, who served as chairman of the House committee, said there's not much the state can really do to address the problem.

"We can't just go out there and build grocery stores in a community or demand that a person go out there and invest their money to build a grocery store," he said. "These are decisions that the private sector has to make."

The committee did recommend expanding federal programs that feed students in schools, especially breakfast. They also heard from nonprofits that bring mobile grocery stores into under-served areas.


This blog post is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • jackaroe123 Apr 23, 2014

    View quoted thread

    When was the last time you moved? How long did it take? Did you need to eat at some point in the middle of it all?

  • ezLikeSundayMorning Apr 23, 2014

    Was the grocery store not making good money? Maybe it's that the pockets of high poverty have gotten too large and the associated problems of poverty are making it worse.

    High poverty area may be less attractive as a place for people to travel into for groceries. Crime may create a higher cost of doing business. Customers don't have as much to spend in the store.

    The best antidote to poverty is education, so focus on that.

  • lazyrebel Apr 23, 2014

    Then move to a place that has a grocery store. When did it become the problem of the state. I loved how they said increase federal programs. ie: More taxes!

  • JustOneMoreGodThanThee Apr 23, 2014

    View quoted thread

    I think you miss the point
    1. People can be healthy on any foods. That is proven. Its the construction of a diet from those food that is problematic.

    2. They are looking at a Oprah solution to a non-problem. " ready access to fresh, healthy and affordable food". I guess "fresh" is good if the alternative is "spoiled", but if the antonym is "preserved" then were are working on the wrong problem. If access to markets is limited then the last thing you want is unpreserved food because it goes bad in two days. Frozen vegetables last months, as do canned tomatoes. And there is no nutritional difference. The "Hi! I am an eggplant" picture that accompanies the article is fine for Portlandia but doesnt help someone who needs to make frequent trips to replace spoiled produce.

    Creating a "House Committee on Food Desert Zone" is counter productive. We are going to waste millions and not positively effect health. That is what studies have shown.

  • Tammy Rush Apr 23, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    You said: "If these "foods" (term used very loosely) were not allowed to be bought with food stamps and WIC it would improve the health of people in these areas and reduce sales at convenience stores which could help make a grocery stores more viable in food desert zones. Could be a win win for everyone."

    There are only certain things you can get with a WIC voucher, none of which are unhealthy choices.

  • jackaroe123 Apr 23, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Yep. WIC is pretty strict. One of the more common things provided is formula. A nursing mother I knew who didn't need formula got to sub in some other protein (beans, maybe). She always had to argue w/ the cashiers who were unfamiliar w/ such exceptions.

    For something like Food Stamps -- which are now on debit cards, I believe -- it's essentially a cash value. Left up to the individual, they're not going to buy unhealthy food b/c of some character issue; they buy unhealthy food b/c it's cheaper. You can't buy alcohol legally w/ FS, and we could restrict other things if need be, but if they work on a cash basis, essentially, we can't very well restrict too many things w/o also addressing the exorbitant price of many healthier options.

  • 68_dodge_polara Apr 23, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Oh my goodness... that was not even said. Here is what was posted:

    "Here are just a few of the items one can buy using food stamps:
    Red Bull
    Sugary Soda
    Mixes for alcoholic beverages
    Artificial sweetener"

  • Terry Watts Apr 23, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    That's great that some people lost weight eating at McDonalds. But there are as many studies showing that high sugar drinks, low nutritionally dense foods, high fats and high salt all contribute to obesity. If you want, I'll put you in touch with my sister-in-law, who is a Professional Nutritionist over at UNC Hospital... She know more about this than any of us!

  • Tammy Rush Apr 23, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    It's not about "disagreeing". You are absolutely wrong about WIC being used to buy things like red bull, soda and cocktail mixers. WIC can only be used for WIC approved food items.

  • 68_dodge_polara Apr 23, 2014

    I honestly feel bad for those that can't formulate a post with out having to resort to insulting others that disagree with them.