How To Eat In A Food Desert
The term 'food desert' keeps springing up lately. According to the USDA, a food desert is anywhere that is more than one mile (in the city) or ten miles (in rural areas) without a supermarket or other whole food retailer like farmers' markets or food coops.
But there's compelling evidence that despite the USDA pumping half a billion dollars into programs to decrease food deserts, it turns out that given a choice, people still eat junk food as opposed to whole foods. As Reason Magazine said in this article, "You can lead human beings to Whole Foods, but you can't make them buy organic kale there."
Technically, Greg and I live in a food desert. The nearest grocery store is twenty minutes away by car, thirty minutes if I go to my preferred grocery store. It's an inconvenience, but I hardly feel neglected. After all, we chose to live out in the boonies. A lack of grocery stores (or any stores for that matter) is in an ironic twist, the reason we chose this location.
Less retail means less population density. I like my space. I like people too. But I don't like them in my space. :D
Still that leaves us in a lurch when it comes to food shopping. During severe weather, impassable roads, or a broken car, we can be trapped at home.
There are many ways to stay ahead of the rat race though.
Grow Your Own: This isn't for everyone. It takes practice, and lots of work. It's a great feeling knowing you can grow your own food, but it's not easy. In the early days of learning how to grow food, I think we would've starved if we had relied on our own efforts. All hail the successful pioneers! The bravest people who ever lived.
Make Pilgrimages: Aside from growing our own produce (and raising our own meat), we try to grocery shop once a week for food that we either can't grow or won't grow where we live. For example, we don't raise cows, so beef has to be bought. I used to limit our shopping to every two weeks or longer, but I like going out just to see how the rest of the world is doing.
Do The COOP: There are food coops everywhere. Just Google for the nearest one. You never really know what you'll get, but you're sure to get a good assortment.
Do Farmer's Markets: This to me has the same problem as grocery stores. Most farmer's markets are not close or convenient. and most are seasonal, but if you can hitch a ride with a neighbor, it's worth it.
Speaking of Neighbors: We have the best neighbors. A few regularly check on us if we've had bad weather that keeps most people housebound. Everyone reciprocates too. If the roads are flooded, and one of us is going to make the trek to the outside world, we call around to see if anyone needs anything while we're out.
Grocery Delivery: This is becoming more and more common. I haven't quite decided if that's a good thing. I know it's not for me. I like choosing my own produce. It's definitely more expensive.
Make Your Work Commute Do Double Duty: If you're going to work anyway, include your grocery shopping on your way home. Saves time and money if you don't have to make a special trip.
Buy In Bulk: I know people think I'm crazy to keep such an overly stocked pantry, but I hate, hate, hate having to run out of ingredients. My motto is "One to serve, one in reserve".
Learn To Cook Real Food: Don't give me that face! You are talking to someone who dislikes cooking intensely. If I can suck it up, so can you. Besides, once you get the hang of it, you're going to find your cooking is way superior to all that processed stuff. Trust me on this. If you cook, you're automatically ahead of the pack in terms of saving money and eating better to boot.
Learn To Preserve Your Food: As long as you're cooking, you might as well try preserving some food. Prepare whole meals and freeze them, make jams, pickle or ferment food, make dried jerky, or bake and freeze your buns. Time savers all.
Food deserts are real, but they're not the real problem. The real problem is that even when given a choice we like to fall back on processed food. So first, let's get our priorities in order. Let's relearn to eat whole foods like our parents and grandparents ate (and at one time taught us to eat).
Do you live in a food desert? When do you do most of your grocery shopping? How often do you shop?
As for fresh, 'whole foods' versus processed, I think it's less a matter of availability than a matter of choice. Everywhere I've lived - cities and rural in 6 different states - has had some kind of store nearby that carried fresh produce. But when you have the choice of fresh veggies or cheese puffs, most people pick the cheese puffs. They're infinitely yummier. I know when I'm looking for a snack, I don't reach for the baby carrots when there's a bag of nacho chips available.
I shop every 7-10 days, depending on what we've run out of since my last trip. Cat food is the main thing. Hubs and I can get by without stuffs, but if the cat runs out of Fancy Feast, it's a major calamity. Here, I watch the weather like a hawk. If it looks like it's going to be bad, I plan ahead and hit the stores before the weather strikes.
Now we're trying to figure out where our home will be after we finish quail grove. This is another challenge as we'll probably go deeper into seclusion so we can continue to enjoy hunting and fishing. Which means it won't matter to us how far the grocery store is because if we can make the transition we'll be able to raise, grow and hunt the majority of our food which is pretty fantastic. Great read found this very interesting.
"Less retail means less population density. I like my space. I like people too. But I don’t like them in my space."
We feel the same which is why living where we are is so nice, uninhabitable land on both sides of our property, railroad in front of us across from the road we live off of and a drop-off behind our land that leads into another pasture to the Colorado River.
"Food desert" sort of as we do live away from grocery stores, and any others as well but oh so "private" with no neighbors within 4 or 5 acres on one side and maybe 3 acres on the other.
Karl goes once a week to grocery shop and I hit online shopping with free delivery from WalMart and Amazon as we need non-food items.
Food desert is a trendy term imo. They claim it mostly affects poor people without transportation. But I have to ask, just how many people fall into this situation? If you're poor without transportation, how are you living day to day anyway? This didn't just happen, you know. And if you're poor but working, you must pass a grocery store somewhere along your commute.
I shop for food once a week if I must, every other week if I can. It's easier now that we're empty nesters. Despite having the grocery store we also try to buy from our local farms and coops whenever possible. The veggies and fruits are so fresh and delicious, and our dollars go directly to our neighbors rather than some anonymous corporation.
re: and our dollars go directly to our neighbors rather than some anonymous corporation.
That's a very good point.I'd much rather support local farmers instead of some mega farm organization where quality (and ethics) could be compromised.
While the term, food desert, is new for some, it was the norm for some of us as well, those in urban and rural settings. As I experienced, those in more rural settings grew some of the vegetables they could on the land they owned. Those in urban settings were surrounded with convenience and liquor stores in walking distance. If you had no transportation of your own, you were reliant upon public transportation, the routes they followed, and what you can both afford to buy and "afford" to carry (the wear and tear of carrying bags of food over distance).
Re: You can lead people to Whole Foods, but you can't make them buy organic kale.
I laughed out loud when I read that. While the article briefly touched on price, it didn't give it nearly the stature of impact on this situation. Given the choice of working from 8 am to 5 pm, taking the bus or train to and from work so there is a commute involved, and then going to Whole Foods to buy $50 worth of food to feed your family for two days, or stop at the supermarket where you can buy $50 work of food to feed your family for a week, yes, it makes sense to go to the supermarket.
But I digress...I'm in a position now where, thanks to an initiative to expand awareness of eating healthier, I can afford some of the options available.
we have heard about food desserts in our country for years now.. and different areas have different issues... but I hve lived in a place that all fresh came by truck and during spring break up and fall freeze up.. we the whole town for 3 weeks ish.. had no extra deliveries made.. you plan ahead and get used to empty shelves
Then I spent 5 years in a fly in fly out only.. once a year shipping container of food for the year that came by sea and man did that take planning.. and made you learn to live without fresh.. if you can not grow it under grow lights, sprout it, hunt it, the olds where it was not gong to be rresh food, it going to be canned or dried and dried is lighter then canned..
I still have trends I do know from living that way..
They do carry items I might not normally see but many times an ethnic grocery store will have the same things at much lower prices.
I don't know that I can handle once a year shopping. The logistics would be astounding.
Every so often I'm reminded how easy we have it when I'm socked with the revelation that one ice storm six hundred miles away is affecting what's on (or not on) my shelves today.
It humbles you and makes you a better shopper.