Food. What is food? Most consider food to be the one constant in our lives. It has played a significant role in human society and culture. Even specific foods are associated with specific regions. For example, tomatoes originated in the Andes in South America. Rice originated in Southeast Asia and wheat was first grown in Southeastern Turkey. Food culture can often be seen as a way to understanding society, history and the world. According to Dr. Siu Yau-ho of the Linguan University in Hong Kong, China; food culture can be broken down into two types of knowledge: material and intellectual knowledge. Material knowledge involves experience through the tangible sense, particularly through taste and smell. Intellectual knowledge involves experience through history, customs/traditions, religion, culture, geography, etc.
“Dr. Siu said that food culture is not only close to life, but also an entry point and important channel of cultural communication, helping people understand the world.” – Food Culture, 2018
Food has also played a significant role in religion. It is considered the basis of human culture. Not only does it play a significant role on the body but also the spiritual body. In most religion, food is considered sacred and doesn’t have a monetary value. Often the value of food is linked to identity. For example, rice in Japanese culture holds great significance. The emperors were considered incarnations of the god of mature rice. In Hopi Indian tradition and culture, corn represents the cycle of life and perseverance. Many are familiar with anthropologist Ludwig Fuerbach’s famous quote, “man is what he eats.” Ludwig conducted extensive research on the connection between the human psyche and the body and emphasizes the importance of nourishment and diet. In modern day society and culture, food has a considerably different ethic. Often food is received through secondary and tertiary sources (supermarkets, fast food, restaurant, etc.). There is a prominent trend among the U.S. population where people don’t really know where their food comes from. This is one of the biggest questions concerning food security.
According to the USDA, food security can be broken up into four basic categorical levels: high food security, marginal food security, low food security and very low food security. High food security characterizes residential areas where there isn’t food access limitation. Marginal food security focuses on areas that have little indication of food access limitation and there is only “anxiety over food sufficiency or shortage.” Low food security denotes the reduction of quality, variety, desirability of diet and food intake. Very low food security shows multiple indications of lack of food access and reduced food intake. In 2006, the Committee of National Statistics (CNSTAT) classified “food security” as household-level economic and social condition. The USDA additionally revised its definition of “food desert” as “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. Largely due to lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets and other healthy food providers.” Essentially food deserts are classified as low-income residential areas and communities where the closest supermarket or grocery stores is within a one-mile radius. Research and study have shown that there the lack of access to nutritional food has a severe impact on overall community health. Additionally, there are several factors that contribute to the stigma of food deserts such as lack of access to transportation, location, socioeconomic status, cultural, shopping/dietary habits, time/availability, etc.
I am studying food security within an urban environment because I want to find out how lack of food security can impact a community’s health in order to help my reader understand the topic of food deserts within the United States and create sustainable solutions to this issue. This question is feasible due to the abundance of information regarding nutrition and health. Additionally, several studies have been conducted regarding the topic of food security globally but particularly within an urban environment. I’m also researching several articles that analyze a multitude of sustainable solutions to the issue of urban food deserts.
Before analyzing the topic of community health within an urban setting, we have to examine certain concepts that fuel this issue. One of these concepts is community food security (CFS), which suggests the main issue: food deserts. According to Meenar (2017), community food security is “having access to affordable, safe, culturally appropriate, and nutritionally adequate food” (Meenar, 1). This occurs through environmentally and economically stable food systems, which promote community involvement and active participation. CFS is often associated with the three main driving factors of food access: geographic, economic and informational (Meenar 2017). This concept plays a key role in the interconnection between socioeconomic status and accessibility to basic necessities.
“Due to lack of food access, many lower-income families in U.S. urban neighborhoods are forced to seek assistance from federal programs and local food cupboards (Nord et al. 2009); however, many face challenges in doing so because of eligibility issues, lack of food availability, and poor quality of food” (Meenar, 2).
Most low-income residence rely on cheap, non-nutritious food mostly due to convenience, abundance, and affordability. This additionally often pose threats and negative changes to health.
When examining the definition “food desert” given by the USDA, this concept of community food security becomes validated. According to the USDA (2012), food deserts are classified as low-income residential areas and communities where the closest supermarket or grocery store is within a 1-mile radius. This implies that regardless of the food source or quality of food, a community is considered to be economically and socially adequate in accessibility to “safe” food. However, both Meenar and Pascale et al. argue that this is misleading and provides a false pretense of food accessibility. Meenar argues that the “urban-food” paradigm is much more than an issue of accessibility. He mentions several overlapping topics such as racial inclusion, food habits, including nutrition and health; therefore, scrutinizing the administrative definition of “food desert” and “accessibility.”
“…this study argues that the concept of food environments in urban neighborhoods goes beyond typical food access and food desert analyses, which primarily use GIS data, including locations of supermarkets or grocery stores, median household income, population density or car ownership… Food environment research [U.S] has relied heavily on… U.S Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) food desert maps or The Reinvestment Fund’s (TRE) low-access maps…” (Meenar, 2).
The maps and data taken by the USDA and TRE display information that negates the official USDA definition, as many disenfranchised areas have access to small local grocery stores but the “quality or quantity of fresh and healthy food is not guaranteed, and these foods are usually more expensive” (Meenar). Meenar also noted that even though people may have “food” access, they aren’t guaranteed “economic” and “cultural” access.
However, Pascale et al. approach this discrepancy from a slightly different angle. Unlike most studies, Pascale et al. analyze communities that are considered food deserts due to lack of mainstream markets but consists of local ethnic markets, as food deserts shouldn’t necessarily indicate the absence of or limited access to food in “poor and racially diverse communities” (Pascale et al. 2017).
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