Monday, February 22, 2010

The Food Desert Project - Introduction




It seems that wherever you read about food, you'll find articles extolling the virtues of peasant cooking. Most of our near-and-dear restaurants are prime examples of this humble cuisine from our own homefront and around the world. However, interspersed in our descriptions of this food are buzzwords like "fresh," "best," or "imported." To me, these words seem out of place - more appropriate for gouty gourmands like Edward VII, who, after succumbing to three meat courses at each meal, promised his doctor to limit his cigar intake to two before breakfast.

Peasants are, by definition, of the working class or even more humble means. A few years ago, I became interested in the concept of the food desert. Mari Gallagher, a researcher on food, poverty, and health issues, defines a Food Desert as "large and isolated geographic areas where mainstream grocery stores are absent or distant." She has linked the food desert with dangerous diet-related health outcomes - and it's no wonder why. In a food desert, fresh vegetables are hard to come by, salty canned foods are your staple. Heavily-processed meats and cheeses may be your only options for protein. Even within this paradigm, choices are extremely limited; the excess of brand names in our grocery stores don't exist at the 7-Eleven. It is no wonder that food desert dwellers prefer to eat at fast-food restaurants that thrive in these areas, despite the consequences to their well-being.

But, after all, isn't facing and overcoming adversity the most innate quality of a human being? It is in this kind of extremely restrictive environment that peasant cooking thrives - take away all the meat and leave the bones? Mulligatawny and consomme appear in the peasant kitchen. Short growing season? Peasants preserve cabbage as sauerkraut, kimchi, or tung tsai. Fishing season short? Peasant ingenuity produces delicacies like baccalao, smoked kippers, canned sardines or lox. When we look within our own kitchens, even with the constraints of the food desert, we can do much better at taking care of ourselves.

So, what happens if we take away "fresh," "best," and "imported?" In this project, I challenge myself to scour local dollar stores and drugstores and find a better, tastier and healthier diet. I will also discuss various political endeavors to address the food desert and their successes and failures. I originally began this project on LTHForum.com, where it is documented, and would like to thank the posters and moderators there for all their support.

See also:

Food Desert or Mirage?

Policy Point Index

1 comment:

Jamie said...

What a great project idea Michele. Such an important issue and so close to home. I used to work in a food desert - lunch for a lot of the kids was a bag of cheetos with two-pumps of nacho cheese squirted right into the bag. Delicious, ingenious treat, but a terrible way to eat.

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