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5 Days in a Food Desert: Being Food Insecure in the U.S.

10 November 2013

I think if you had to easily spot some of the things I am truly love by skimming my blog, one of the first themes to jump out is food.

I eat to celebrate. I eat when I'm down, or bored, or wanting to explore a city in a special way. I exercise to be able to eat in the amount that makes me happy and I take myself up on that deal every day.

I love eating food as much as I love sourcing it. I am known to sit on Urban Spoon and Yelp for prolonged stretches of time, looking for new places, reading reviews and planning my weekend by where I am going to eat. I live and work (both in Highland Park and Plano) within a mile from fresh eateries, juice bars and grocers, and I am spending money on a healthy breakfast, lunch or basket full of quality items for a dinner I thought up earlier that day 3-5 times a week. Because of these luxuries, I am a picky eater. I'll eat many things, but I have no patience for eating anything other than what I just decided that I wanted. And I tend to always get what I want.

Food is a happy spot and sense of security for me, which is ironic since my home state, Texas, is in the top five states in the U.S. with the highest rate children under 18 that are food insecure, meaning they are unable to consistently access nutritious and adequate amount of food necessary for a healthy life. According to the USDA, over 16.7 million children under 18 are living with this condition.

Thanks to a cold beginning to winter, a few mini meltdowns about the difficulties of not knowing where to eat (oh yes, those happen plenty on Friday evenings over here) and participation in a 7 Experiment online Bible study group, I knew it was time to do something to make a change in the way I think about food. I wanted to get in touch with the way many people living in the same state, city and even zip code as me have to approach their meals on a daily basis: with limited options, limited nutrition and a side of hunger.

 
This week while my pantry is completely full and I have delicious and healthy options at every corner as I live and work, I am going to try my absolute hardest to stick to these foods for my meals:

 
 
So why these foods? The 7 Experiment actually challenges the participant to change their diet to a limited amount of whole and natural foods. But that wasn't the problem for me. Actually, it was part of my pickiness problem. See the organic jelly above? It's cost effective, in bulk and just fine. But the organic jelly at the grocer in my neighborhood sweetens theirs with natural fruit juices, and this one uses sugar. So I skim over this one every week and make a second trip to get the jelly that I love best. Many Americans don't even have a grocery store in their neighborhood, let alone the ability to hop around to find the perfect jelly like I do almost every weekend.
 
According to the USDA, food deserts "are defined as urban neighborhoods and rural towns without access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. Instead of super markets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options. The lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related disease, such as diabetes and heart disease." 
 
In case I tried to manipulate myself into thinking this was a problem somewhere besides my backyard, I used the USDA ERS Atlas to create a map of food deserts in the Dallas area. It was even more shocking than I had prepared for.
 
So this week I am eating the foods the big green patches on this atlas have access to: bread, jelly, nut butter, eggs, chips, packaged legumes and packaged fruit. It's not even close to some of the lower quality that is actually sold in food deserts, but it is all from one place and it is all I get this week.
 
Thank you in advance for letting me document what I hope is a week of change for me, and share the staggering facts I found on food and hunger in the U.S. along the way. Next time I want something completely specific, I hope I am grateful for what I have. And next time I wonder or feel judgment on another person's food decisions, I hope I extend grace with the knowledge that many are doing their best with the options they have access to.
 
Here's hoping there's a good report on Friday! Stay tuned!


4 comments:

  1. Ooooooo 7. It's a game changer. Good for you for challenging yourself. Just this weekend I was listening to a pod cast on TED Talk Radio (NPR) and there was a guy in South Central LA who lives in a food dessert. He decided to plant a garden in is front yard. It is right on the street and open to anybody who wants to partake. I think he calls himself the Garden Gangster!

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  2. I could eat tortilla chips for every meal, but I know that that is not what the spirit of the challenge is about!

    My husband and I are spending an extended weekend in Dallas (celebrating an anniv) in a few weekends, and we're totally planning the whole thing around food. Ha! So, what's the best new local place to eat over there? (Not to distract you from your task at hand...)

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  3. Hi Lilly, I have a question and can't find your email address. Would you mind sendng it to me at thepinkpagoda@gmail.com? Thanks! Jennifer

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  4. I love this, friend. Thank you for sharing this often forgotten info!

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