In ?Food Deserts,? Oases of Nutrition

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Poor urban neighborhoods in America are often food deserts – places where it is difficult to find fresh food. There are few grocery stores; people may do all their shopping at bodegas, where the only available produce and meat are canned peaches and Spam. If they want fruits and vegetables and chicken and fish, they have to take a bus to a grocery store. The lack of fresh food creates a vicious cycle; children grow up never seeing it or acquiring a taste for it. It is one reason that the poor are likelier to be obese than the rich.

In many cities across the world, the food desert is a food Sahara. This is particularly true in the shantytowns of Asian megacities, such as the neighborhoods of North Jakarta where the development agency Mercy Corps worked for about a decade to try to teach mothers about nutrition. In Jakarta, 17 percent of children under the age of 5 suffer from acute malnutrition, while 12 percent are overweight. Mercy Corps was doing traditional health education. But it found that while mothers learned a lot, they continued to feed their babies and small children the same stuff – a diet high in sugar and fat that lacked the nutrients children need to grow. They knew what they should be feeding their children. But that food wasn’t a possibility where they lived.

The problems familiar to us in America – the relatively high price of healthy food and the dearth of points of sale – were compounded in Jakarta by another serious obstacle: no kitchens. A family cramming six people into one room has nowhere to cook or eat. When women do cook, they must set up stoves in alleyways behind their houses; they use water they haul in buckets, which may or may not be clean. It’s heroic. But it’s not conducive to healthy eating.

Source: The New York Times (link opens in a new window)