Food Deserts + Solidarity = Food Justice

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Mickey Z. -- World News Trust

Feb. 14, 2015

“For me, I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You'd be surprised how far that gets you.”

- Neil deGrasse Tyson

Embracing a life of activism means being a teacher and student at the same time. I was recently reminded of this while re-watching a talk I gave last year at the NYC March Against Monsanto. In that speech, I told the several thousand attendees how the first step in the fight against GMOs is to “not buy them.”

I can only imagine how privileged and oblivious and unhelpful my advice sounded to anyone in that crowd who lives in a food desert. For me, this can only mean one thing: Back to school.

“Low-income and low-access thresholds”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), food deserts are defined as “urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options. The lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.”

The USDA's Economic Research Service estimates that 23.5 million people live in food deserts and more than half of those people (13.5 million) are low-income.

Census tracts qualify as food deserts if they meet low-income and low-access thresholds:

1. They qualify as "low-income communities" based on having: a) a poverty rate of 20 percent or greater, OR b) a median family income at or below 80 percent of the area median family income; AND

2. They qualify as "low-access communities" based on the determination that at least 500 persons and/or at least 33 percent of the census tract's population live more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store (10 miles, in the case of non-metropolitan census tracts).

For more info, please check out and share the USDA food desert locator here.

Define “Easy”
As I re-acquainted myself with the above information, I recalled (and cringed at) how many times I’ve publicly declared something like: “It’s so easy to go vegan” or “If you buy organic, you’ll easily avoid GMOs.”

(insert sad trombone here)

Thus, I say again: I can only imagine how privileged and oblivious and unhelpful my advice sounds to anyone who lives in a food desert.

The primary lesson here is: Check your privilege. The parallel lesson is equally as crucial: Checking our privilege requires 24/7 diligence.

If activists of all stripes become more inclusive, less arrogant, and much more willing to listen, we can learn plenty from those who endure oppression every minute of every day. From there, deep solidarity is not only possible… it’s inevitable.


Mickey Z. is the author of 12 books, most recently Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on ActivismUntil the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on the Web hereAnyone wishing to support his activist efforts can do so by making a donation here.

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