Avibra was created with the specific mission of helping people live happier, healthier and more secure lives. We take our commitment to our community and the world seriously, and we’re always working to find new ways to make a real difference. Last month, Social Impact featured access to clean water. This month, the topic is access to nutritious food. We will also be donating to The Food Trust, an organization dedicated to solving problems with food access, improving family health through nutrition education, improving school food, supporting farmers markets and healthier food options in corner stores and ensuring healthy food is available to more people across the US.
When we’re talking about problems with access to food, it’s easy to assume that the only part that matters is making sure that people have enough to eat. While that’s certainly true, it’s not the end of the story. We all know how much our health is impacted by what we eat. Healthy and nutritious meals don’t just happen by accident in our modern world, they’re the product of planning, time and effort. If you’re living in an area with dollar stores and the closest place to buy a head of lettuce is a half hour drive away, that’s going to affect the food you eat on a daily basis. Setups like this exist across the US, even in regions dominated by commercial farms. It’s created what has been called food deserts, geographic areas where peoples’ access to affordable and healthy food options is limited or nonexistent due to the absence of grocery stores within convenient traveling distance.
Food Deserts in the US
According to The Food Trust, more than 39 million Americans are affected by the “grocery gap.” These are places where it’s easier for people to buy a grape soda than it is to buy actual grapes. While this is a phenomenon that largely affects rural areas, Nevada and Wyoming especially struggle with some of the most pervasive food desert issues in the US. Officials in Southern states also worry about how dollar stores — which largely provide packaged foods low on any health ranking — might be pushing out traditional grocery stores. The dollar stores seem more attractive in terms of cost and convenience, but they take a big bite out of the bottom line for the grocery stores that are then forced to close up shop.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, food prices have risen about two percent each year over the past 20 years, or 40 percent since 2000. For many of us, we can probably remember a time when grocery store staples cost noticeably less than they do now. This issue with affordability is a major contributing factor in the access of nutritious food. Produce, whether fresh, frozen or canned, simply has fewer calories than the packaged foods you’d find at the grocery store. This means that it takes more of it to meet your caloric needs each day. And when you’re buying by the pound, that can really start to feel like it adds up.
Time & Energy
There’s a big difference between coming home with a bag of brussels sprouts and a microwave dinner. The first is generally inedible without some preparation and cooking, while the second can be on the table in a matter of minutes. This difference is a big factor for busy families and people working long hours with long commutes. Even easier is the drive thru window on the way between work and home, especially when you’re forced to live in a more affordable part of town that’s far from your job. If you get home at 7pm and your toddler needs to be in bed by 7:30, there’s just not time to make much. On top of all of this, there’s a certain amount of skill required to make healthy food that tastes great, too. All of these factors contribute to lower accessibility to nutritious food.
Food at School
Many kids in the US rely on school food for at least one meal a day. This is especially true for kids who qualify for free and reduced lunches and those whose parents need to drop them off early before work for before school programs. While there are federal standards for school food that encourages balanced meals, these standards are often under attack or on the chopping block. A 2019 USDA study showed that the nutritional value of school lunches increased by 40 percent between 2009 and 2015 under stronger healthy school food guidelines, with children eating more whole grains and greens and less refined grains, empty calories and salt.
What We Can Do
There are many organizations like The Food Trust operating in different states that focus on providing the resources that individuals and families need to get more nutritious food on their plates. We can make sure they have the funding they need to continue to operate. Additionally, we can make sure to support businesses that make access to nutritious food easier, not harder. If you have school aged children, make sure the school knows that you consider nutritious meals to be important for every child’s education.