In the past week, our class learned about the presence of food deserts in the Bay Area, as well as a few examples of actions that are taking place to combat this problem. One of the most interesting reads for me was an article about three different ongoing plans of action taking place in West Oakland, a community that is categorized as a food desert. Before reading these assigned articles, I had never thought too much about the definitions of a “food desert” or “food security.” Of course I am well aware of the existence of hardships that come with not having resources or access to food, but these terms have given me a look into the different definitions that can come with them and the varied instances in which they apply to a given area.
According to the USDA, a “food desert” refers to “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods,” and is “usually found in impoverished areas.” This term has two parts in this way; one being the accessibility to food, and the second concerning the health of the food available. In this article about the food desert of West Oakland, we see the existence of these problems as many residents live without easy access to a grocery market where they can buy fresh produce and food. While this problem exists, luckily there are movements that are trying to fix it.
However, in looking more into where else food deserts exist, I found that my home of the Navajo reservation is reportedly one of the largest areas in the U.S. that has the highest level in categorization of a food desert. While this was my first time I had looked at this problem through statistics, I have always known it to exist. Many times while on the reservation, I have taken the long 2 hour drives to the nearest Bashas’ just to pick up the cheapest food for our family and sheepherder. On those trips we rarely find ourselves in the produce or meat sections, because fresh foods like that will not be able to survive the long trip back, let alone stay in our refrigerator-less home. Normally our cart is instead filled with boxes of soda, bottles of water, bags of potatoes and flour, and heavy cans of other non-perishable food. Nutritional value is rarely a concern, because the limited amount of money is greater. This is the case for my family members that currently live on the reservation, and it’s a problem I have struggled to witness every time I go home.
After realizing the Navajo reservation’s categorization as a “food desert,” it makes sense, and it’s a harsh reality. But now looking back in comparison at the food deserts of the Bay Area, it upsets me even more. How could a community that is seemingly surrounded by so much wealth and urbanism also be in the same category as the Navajo reservation where even resources such as fresh water and electricity are so far out of reach? The wealth that surrounds these areas has created a problem of neglect and misrepresentation. When people think Bay Area, they do not see the communities like East Palo Alto and West Oakland that struggle in the same ways as my community on a reservation do, and this is a serious issue.
As a recent member of this regional community here in the Bay, I have realized that I too was victim to this blindness for a long time. But luckily, I still have time to change and increase my awareness of these societal issues that plague the local area. Taking this class, and reading those articles has made me realize that while these problems are large in scope, I can still do something to help the movement in changing their existence. This weekend, we will be going to a local farm called Veggielution, and I look forward to learning more about their initiatives. This week has been informative, inspiring, and mostly motivating, because no one should have to call their home a “food desert.”