How can we increase the lack of access to nutritious food and supermarkets within the lower socioeconomic communities in LA?
Throughout California and more specifically LA, especially in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods, there are many neighborhoods classified as “food deserts” which means those areas lack access to supermarkets and fresh produce. This lack of access to nutritious food forces unhealthy eating habits, proven by the increase of obesity rates in lower-income communities across the United States. Challenges to access nutritious food don’t only result from lack of money, but the challenge also stems from long travels to supermarkets and lack of access to transportation.
Here are basic terms that will allow you to understand the data below better:
- Supermarket: a food store that sells a variety of different food items (fresh produce, baked goods, sweets, grains, and other basic food items)(examples include: Ralphs, Trader Joes, and Vons)
- Conveniencw/Liquor Store: smaller than a supermarket, usually doesn’t have as many food options (less fresh produce and more processed food than a supermarket)(examples include: 7-11and 99 cent stores)
- convenience/gas stores: convenience stores with gas
- carryout eatery: a restaurant that only does takeout or a non-chain fast-food restaurant
- specialty carryout eatery: places that only sell specific food items (such as a coffee store. or doughnut shop)
- AM/PM specialty stores: bakeries, meat markets, fish markets, etc.
- Full-Service restaurants: restaurants that offer both takeouts and sit down service (examples include Din Tai Fung and IHOP)
- Fast-food restaurants: food is served on trays and you order at a counter (examples include McDonald’s, In-n-Out, and Burger King)
- Mobile food trucks/carts: food sold from objects that can move
- bar/tavern: a place that sells small snacks but focuses on alcoholic beverages
As illustrated by the image above there is a clear lack of access to supermarkets within the neighborhood but much easier access to fast food and convenience stores.
As conveyed by the pie chart above it is clear that there were no supermarkets within this neighborhood. This means that there was probably no access to fresh produce within this neighborhood clearly forcing unhealthy eating habits onto those who lived there.
As portrayed by the data right above, it is clear that this neighborhood also had much easier access to fast food and processed food than to supermarkets with nutritious food.
As illustrated by all three pie charts above in all three communities there was a lack of supermarkets, the stores that usually have fresh produce and not processed meats and protein, while there were many more, in comparison, of food stores that sell unhealthy processed food. In all three neighborhoods’ supermarkets, despite being the place where people should easily access fresh produce, there was still an overwhelming amount of processed food compared to grains, vegetables, and fruits, and the healthier food always cost much more than the unhealthy processed food.
I then did a comparison to the food options in my community, and here is the data I collected:
In conclusion, there was a clear divide in access to healthy food and supermarkets between my neighborhood and the poorer neighborhoods around my area. Also within my supermarkets, the grains, vegetables, and fruits far outweigh the unhealthy processed food that is sold. Just because I live in a higher socioeconomic neighborhood my access to food that will allow me properly fuel my body is much higher, and I believe that is a clear inequality present within my community.
What is healthy food?
- Food that isn’t processed and low in added fat. Healthy food tends to be categorized as food that is as close to its natural state as possible. So for example, fresh produce, eggs, and whole-grain bread. What is junk food?
What is unhealthy food?
- Food that is highly processed and a lot of fat is added to it while cooking. Unhealthy food tends to have gone through a lot of steps to become the food it is, so for example, chips, milkshakes, and candy. But there are some natural foods that are considered unhealthy as well, such as sugar, fats and oils, and salt.
So how does this affect the body?
Food is the basic fuel for our body. Without food, our body systems couldn’t work, and we couldn’t live. While eating healthy food our body can easily digest and process the food which allows it to turn the food into fuel quickly and efficiently. While unhealthy food takes a while for your body to digest and turn into food, which can clog up and slow down your body’s systems.
Let’s start with the basics of what you should eat every day:
The main foods you should be eating every day are vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and healthy protein, and, due to the fact that supermarkets sell vegetables, fruits, and healthy protein, people who live within the poorer neighborhoods are already at a disadvantage because they can’t reach 3/4 of the food they should be eating every day.
How healthy food affects the body:
Healthy food clearly can help your life in so many ways. It gives you energy, increases your metabolism, and overall, it just helps your daily life in so many ways. Without access to healthy food, all of these health benefits fall through the floor, even if someone wanted to make healthy choices. s
As portrayed by the image above the best foods for all parts of your body are fresh produce and not processed food. These types of food were the least accessible within all of the neighborhoods surveyed, forcing their health in these areas to suffer.
How unhealthy food can affect the body:
The image above outlines just a few illnesses and diseases that can occur if you have an unhealthy diet. Not only can it affect you with serious sicknesses such as heart conditions and kidney disease, but you can also get small things that affect you on a daily basis such as shortness of breath and headaches. The people who live within lower socioeconomic neighborhoods only have access to food that affect their body in both the above and below ways. They are forced, because of lack of help and resources, into illnesses and diseases that could affect them for the rest of their lives.
Not only does an unhealthy diet affect all the things listed above, but it also increases your risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity which are both life-threatening diseases to have. The connection between unhealthy eating and health problems is clearly shown in the communities highlighted on the map above, as all of the communities had higher obesity rates than richer surrounding communities.
So how do we fix this:
On a big scale:
Adding fresh produce to convenience stores: Throughout my research, I realized that almost all poor or rural communities had access to a convenience store, so I propose that convenience stores start to offer more fresh produce along with healthy protein options. The produce and proteins don’t have to be fancy or an abundance of different choices, but just enough of each category that someone could make a healthy meal at home. I would personally recommend fruits and vegetables that don’t spoil as quickly, such as apples, beets, carrots, and cabbage, and for the protein, I would recommend vegetarian options because they last longer. Vegetarian protein options would include tofu and beans. I think this idea would work because it doesn’t require any new buildings or companies to move into communities, but it only requires the already existing companies to include a few new items to the foods they offer. After researching through earlier attempts to fix ‘food deserts’ within LA I realized that all attempts to add supermarkets within these areas failed because the supermarket companies refused to help out, so I decided that through my solution the problem can be fixed by the stores that are already there, making the change easier. I think my solution is quite viable because it only requires changes within the community, and it doesn’t require any huge additions to what is already in the neighborhoods. This response connects directly to my neighborhood because I know that access to convenience stores far outweighs access to supermarkets in many places in LA, so using the convenience stores can increase many neighborhoods’ access to nutritious food. I came up with this solution after realizing that supermarkets do not want to cooperate to help fix this problem, so I knew I had to come up with a solution that fixes the problem without the big cooperation and companies’ help. After realizing that most convenience stores already sell a small amount of food, I decided that the best way to fix the problem was through convenience stores.
On a smaller scale:
Cheap, Nutritious, and Quick Recipes (only work if someone has access to produce):
Here is a link to 50 cheap and quick recipes: https://www.taste.com.au/healthy/galleries/healthy-dinners- budget/4qGChV5h?page=7
Here is another link to a page with cheap and easy meal prep ideas:
I know this will only work once companies in the communities start offering produce and healthy protein options, but I still think it is important to think about how cheap you can make healthy food to remove the belief that healthy food is always more expensive than fast food. I came up with this idea because about a year ago my school had a speaker come and talk to us about ‘food deserts’ and about the belief that healthy food is much more expensive than fast food, She had personally gone into a few neighborhoods and taught them how to cook cheap but nutritious meals, and her research on how it positively impacted their daily lives was incredible, so I decided it would be a great decision to include cheap but nutritious meals within my solution as well.
Healthy food options at fast-food restaurants:
- Classic whole grain oatmeal
- Reduced-Fat turkey, bacon, and egg white sandwich
- Spinach, feta, and egg white wrap
- Egg white and Roasted red pepper bites
- Avocado spread
- Kale and Farro salad
- Chicken and Quinoa protein bowl with black bean and greens
- Grilled Chicken and Hummus Protein box
- Seasonal Harvest Fruit Blend
- Salted Almond Chocolate Bites
I think introducing people to healthier options at fast-food restaurants gives everyone, no matter where they live, the option to choose a healthier option. I know that even healthier options at fast-food restaurants aren’t truly healthy, but any step in improving your health can help you in many ways. I think with the easy access to fast-food restaurants in all the surveyed neighborhoods this solution is the most viable and quickest solution that can help improve people’s lives as soon as today. Especially in the US, fast-food restaurants are around every corner making the number of people who eat their everyday increase, but choosing healthier options while still getting to go to your favorite fast-food restaurant can allow you to improve your health a little every time you go.
How to build your own small garden: https://www.hgtv.com/outdoors/landscaping-and-hardscaping/how-to-build-a-window-box
In the above link, HGTV teaches you how you can make your own window garden. I think this will help give everyone access to a small amount of fresh produce because everyone can make one, you don’t even need a yard! This solution allows everyone to take matters into their own hands because the garden boxes are cheap and easy to make. You can grow all sorts of plants within the boxes, such as kale, tomatoes, and basil, depending on what fresh produce you want to introduce into your own life. I think this solution is a very viable solution, but it does require everyone to take the matter into their own hands and create the box, but once the box is created they will have easier access to some fresh produce than most people who don’t live in areas considered ‘food deserts’. This solution works especially well in LA because of the incredibly warm weather where a lot of fresh produce grows better, so, not only will people within the LA area have more options to choose from, but their fresh produce should also be able to grow all year round.
Please fill out the poll below about the access to supermarkets within your neighborhood:
Leave a comment, feedback, or how you would take action to fix ‘food deserts’ down below! Thank you!