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6.2: Sample Student Research Essay Draft- Food Deserts

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    Reading: Draft of student essay on food deserts

    Note: This sample is a rough draft that is not intended to be a model of a polished, finished essay. Since the chapter focuses on clarity and style, the essay can be used as the "before'" version for practicing revision.

    Amanda Wu

    17 May 2019

    Accessibility and Affordability of Healthy Food Dependent Upon Socioeconomic Status

    Have you ever had trouble finding a supermarket when you wanted to purchase fresh vegetables and fruits? Have you ever wondered why there are no supermarkets in certain areas? This phenomenon is especially interesting as people have begun to pay more attention to a healthy diet and lean towards purchasing healthy food, and more and more natural and organic-food stores have opened in recent years. As explained by Michael Pollan, a food detective and expert and the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, organic food is considered healthy because “it is grown without chemical fertilizers or pesticides” (133). Even though there are organic grocery stores like Whole Foods seemingly everywhere, it is difficult for some people of lower socioeconomic status, who live in food deserts, to access healthy food due to lack of accessibility and affordability. According to American FactFinder, the median family income in the United States was $70,850 in 2017 (“American FactFinder—Results”). This means that families with a median income below $70,850 are considered to have lower socioeconomic status. Gloria Howerton, professor in the Geography Department at the University of Georgia and the author of “‘Oh Honey, Don't You Know?’ The Social Construction of Food Access in a Food Desert,” mentions that people of lower socioeconomic status usually live in food deserts (741). A food desert is an area where there is a lack of fresh vegetable and fruit providers, such as supermarkets or farmers' markets. Food deserts that exist in places like West Oakland, California, contribute to inequitable health outcomes; however, some solutions are in place to improve this situation.

    It’s difficult for people of lower socioeconomic status who live in food deserts to access healthy food because there is a lack of outlets for fresh produce in their community. As Alana Rhone, an Agricultural Economist, and colleagues report, there’s a website known as the Food Access Research Atlas (FARA) that “allows users to investigate access to food stores at the census-tract level” (1). According to the United States Department of Agriculture ERS, the measure of food access is based on proximity to the nearest store, and the number of households without a vehicle (“Documentation” para 2). As specified by FARA, 33% of residents in West Oakland are at least one mile away from any supermarket, and one-third of its residents do not have vehicles. For urban areas, such as West Oakland, the USDA defines that “a tract is considered low access if at least 100 households are more than a half-mile from the nearest supermarket and have no access to a vehicle” (“Documentation” para 8). Given the facts above, one can reasonably assume that if people don’t have a car and need to take a bus to access healthy food, it will cause inconvenience and lower their willingness to purchase healthy food. It’s harder to calculate the time it will take to go on the supermarket trip when one is taking public transportation. As a result, if one buys fresh milk but has to spend much time on taking public transportation to return home from a supermarket, the fresh milk may spoil. In contrast, if people own private vehicles, they can easily plan the trip and be willing to travel longer distances to a supermarket to purchase healthy food. Therefore, it’s hard for residents of West Oakland who live in food deserts to access healthy produce since there are insufficient outlets to fresh food in their community.

    It’s also tough for people of lower socioeconomic status to buy healthy food because they cannot afford high-end organic food. According to American FactFinder, the median family income in West Oakland was $35,037  in 2017, which is below the U.S. median family income of $70,850. Based on the data above, residents in West Oakland are considered to be of a lower socioeconomic status. As mentioned previously, organic food has no chemical fertilizers or pesticides, and as stated by Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, the 6th Edition. 2019, “organic farming requires more manual labor and attention” (“Organic food.”), so its price is higher than conventional food. Take salted butter as an example; one box of four bars of organic salted butter costs $5.29, while one box of non-organic salted butter only costs $3.49 (as listed on the Whole Foods website). Additionally, as reported by an article, “Socioeconomic Status and Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease: Impact of Dietary Mediators,” written by many Medical Doctor and Doctor of Philosophy, “Low-income families purchase low-cost items” because “the price of fruit and vegetables was the most determinative barrier in the consumption of these products from low-income families” (Psaltopoulou Chapter: 2.2. Cost). People with lower income may face the difficulty of living a self-sufficient life, much less purchase high-end organic food. Due to the lower income, if people of lower socioeconomic status frequently purchase high-end organic food, it will increase their financial burden. They often tend to consume cheaper and less healthy produce such as processed food because the price point is lower, and the portion is larger than that of organic food. As a result, it will be challenging for people with lower income to access healthy food.

    However, many residents of West Oakland believe that corner liquor stores are cheaper and more convenient than supermarkets. Admittedly, it is true. They think this because there are many corner liquor stores nearby, and that is convenient for them. They can buy everything they need in a corner liquor stores store and don’t have to travel long distances to a supermarket to access healthy food. Research on Google Maps shows there are at least ten corner liquor stores but no supermarkets like Whole Foods in West Oakland. As stated by Sam Bloch, the author of “Why Do Corner Stores Struggle to Sell Fresh Produce” and a professional writer for The New York Times, L.A. Weekly, and Artnet, most of the corner stores “don’t have walk-in refrigerators” (para 13). Thus, they cannot sell many types of fresh produce because they do not have refrigerators to keep the produces fresh; the food may spoil before being sold. As a result, liquor stores rarely provide healthy food choices, such as fresh vegetables and fruits, meat, or dairy. Hence, even if many liquor stores nearby are convenient, one is barely able to find healthier produce. In the long-term, those that constantly shop at corner liquor stores may only gain convenience but lose in health and well-being.

    Although the lack of accessibility and affordability may obstruct people of lower socioeconomic status who live in food deserts to access healthy food, luckily there are some existing resources that one can make good use to improve this situation, such as food hubs and community gardens. According to Jim Downing, the executive editor of UCANR's research journal California Agriculture, food hubs are nonprofit organizations and “are designed to enable small and mid-scale farms to efficiently reach larger and more distant market channels like campuses and school districts, hospitals and corporate kitchens” (para 5). For instance, Mandela Foods Distribution, a Mandela Marketplace social enterprise, delivers fresh fruits and vegetables to corner stores in low-income neighborhoods in West Oakland (Downing para 6). Food hubs supply fresh vegetables and fruits to low-income communities, and it increases access to healthy foods for residents of West Oakland. Residents can obtain fresh and healthy food through food hubs at Mandela Marketplace. Another resource that helps residents to access healthy food is learning how to grow vegetables and fruits in community gardens. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Establishing a community garden where participants share in the maintenance and products of the garden and organizing local farmers markets are two efforts that community members themselves can do” (“Food Desert” para 4). Community gardens provide places that allow people to plant food for themselves. One of the famous community gardens is known as City Slicker Farms. The goal of City Slicker Farms is “to empower West Oakland community members to meet the basic need for fresh, healthy food by creating sustainable, high-yield urban farms and backyard gardens” (para 1). There are many plots provided to residents to plant vegetables and fruits and to exchange and discuss their gardening experiences at the farm. If residents can make good use of food hubs or community gardens, they can access to healthy food and learn how to grow fresh vegetables and fruits themselves.

    This case study shows that the difficulties people of lower socioeconomic status who live in food deserts face in accessing healthy food are lower-income and a lack of supermarkets. Helping people of lower socioeconomic status increase their income to afford healthy produce or building many supermarkets that sell healthy produce may be not easy to achieve. However, to recognize this situation and make good use of existing resources to access healthy food are significant and feasible. For long-term health, people need to consume more healthy food instead of less healthy food such as processed food. In other words, people who consistently consume processed food may negatively affect their health. Since many processed foods have high amounts of added sugar and sodium, they may be associated with some diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. In brief, people should consume unhealthy food as least as possible. Planting fresh vegetables and fruits in community gardens or going to Mandela Foods Distribution where food hubs supply much fresh food for residents are some of the ways for people who have trouble finding fresh food to access healthy produce. These may be the best ways for people who live in food deserts and belong to a lower socioeconomic status to receive the greatest benefits from limited resources.

    Works Cited

    “American FactFinder—Results.” American FactFinder - Results, 5 Oct. 2010.

    Bloch, Sam. “Why Do Corner Stores Struggle to Sell Fresh Produce?” New Food Economy, 21 Feb. 2019.

    “Documentation.” Economic Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture.

    Downing, J. “Food Hubs: The Logistics of Local.” California Agriculture, University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources, 13 Sept. 2017.

    “Food Desert: Gateway to Health Communication: CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 Sept. 2017.

    Howerton, Gloria, and Amy Trauger. “‘Oh Honey, Don’t You Know?’ The Social Construction of Food Access in a Food Desert.” ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies, vol. 16, no. 4, Dec. 2017, pp. 740–760. EBSCOhost.

    “Organic Food.” Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition, Jan. 2019, p. 1. EBSCOhost.

    Psaltopoulou, Theodora, et al. “Socioeconomic Status and Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease: Impact of Dietary Mediators.” Hellenic Journal of Cardiology, Elsevier, 1 Feb. 2017.

    Pollan, Michael. Young Readers Edition: The Omnivore’s Dilemma: The Secrets behind What You Eat. New York: Dial, 2009. Print.

    Rhone, Alana, et al. “Low-Income and Low-Supermarket-Access Census Tracts, 2010-2015.” AgEcon Search, 1 Jan. 2017.

    "Salted Butter". Whole Foods.

    Licenses and Attributions

    CC Licensed Content: Original

    Authored by Amanda Wu, Laney College. License: CC BY NC.

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