Letter to the Editor: Food Insecurity is a Local Reality

My local newspaper recently ran an article questioning USDA’s classification of part of our municipality as a “food desert.” I wrote a letter to the editor which was published, and is below.

A food desert is defined as an area where residents live more than one mile from a grocery store. USDA utilized census data to delineate food deserts nationwide., and posted a searchable map online. What struck me about the article was how it made its case based largely on information  from residents who don’t face transportation or income challenges when it comes to food shopping. That’s just a sub-sector of the population in any community.

Hunger and food insecurity are on the rise nationwide and around the world, and the consequences are dire. It’s important to make sure we take a broad outlook to identify, and address these issues locally, globally and nationally. Find your community on USDA’s food desert map for starters, and do what you can to turn these into healthful oases for all.

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Food insecurity is a local reality
5/26/11

Regarding “Food Desert?” (May 17), if one considers overall factors and demographics, it’s apparent food insecurity is a growing reality. The Ashland Food Bank continues to report record demand; proof enough.

Access and affordability define food deserts. Other factors come into play: awareness, available time, abilities and attitudes.

Few folks seem aware that the Growers Market and the Siskiyou Sustainable Co-op accept Oregon Trail/SNAP, and that prices there are often better than stores for equivalent items. Many neighbors, such as single parents, lack time to get to the growers market or walk a mile to the store.

Those with limited physical mobility face more challenges.

Basic cooking skills have waned. My parents raised our produce, eggs and meat organically, and cooked from scratch so I learned everyday cooking and highly value organic, whole foods. I eat affordably while buying only organic items at the Co-op and Growers Market because I purchase only bulk foods and unpackaged produce. Others fill their carts with the pricey, processed, packaged foods that have become societal staples.

The article overwhelmingly focused on comments from Co-op shoppers, who are obviously able to get there and find it affordable. What about those at other stores, food banks and community meals?

Mayor Stromberg says he’s “wary” of such studies yet admittedly ponders, “Do we know who within our community is having difficulty getting “… food?” It sounds like we don’t.

It’s our responsibility to reach out more broadly to find out and craft equitable, local solutions. A follow-up article to that end would be a great start, along with pieces comparing prices across local stores and growers markets, highlighting the full range of places accepting Oregon Trail/SNAP, and quick and easy ways to prepare bulk foods and fresh produce.

Melissa Schweisguth

Letter can be found online here

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