Food deserts aren’t common in the UK. We are lucky to live in a country with shops around or near us selling fresh fruit and vegetable. Fooddeserts in America are quite a common issue, however, and this is prevalent in African American communities.
To get to the root of the issue you must understand how America was built. After the second world war, the American government built new towns and cities across the country and offered cheap mortgages to its citizens. An example of this was Levittown which became the poster child of this policy.
(Levittown in 1947)
Banks in America, however, were institutionally racist and did not want to offer mortgages to African Americans. To get around this Local, State and the Federal government began to institute a policy of redlining where African American communities were separated from white communities, and this would allow the banks to deduce whether it was feasible to offer financial services to those wishing to buy homes in that particular neighbourhood.
This does not take into consideration the $41.4 billion low-interest loan that the Federal government offered to returning veterans of which the New York Times estimated that 98% went to white Americans. This set the stage for the exclusion of African Americans from these new towns being built all over the country.
Now you may be asking how these brought about food deserts in America. The two pictures below should give you an indication of how population redlining and food deserts in America are related. The two images below show how centuries of policy instituted at a Federal and State have led to this becoming the norm and its impact continues to be felt 74 years after Levittown was built.
(African American population in Chicago)
This issue has become so big that food activist Kerry Washington has renamed food deserts to food apartheid, and it has become clear that food deserts in America impact ethnic minorities and more specifically the African American community who were the original target of this policy.
The long-term impact of this policy.
A study conducted by Shari Rosen and Margaret Lahey found that children who were not taking in the essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients needed led to hem having “delays in vision, fine motor skills, language skills and personal-social skills.” (Vazir, Naidu, & Vidyasagar, 1998) This issue is worsened by the fact that “1/3 of surveyed adolescents actually reported poor food habits, chronic illnesses, and lower school achievements.” (Chen, 2020) The solution to this issue is clear. Research from 1997 has shown that implementing healthy school lunches in certain schools led to “lower incidences of dropouts, expulsions, drug use, weapons, and fighting, with a simultaneous rise in student performance, as grades have also improved and gone up at these schools.” (Chen, 2020).
The solution to this issue isn’t easy. Food deserts in America have existed for generations and were created by the United States government itself. It will take an equal size intervention by the Federal government on behalf of the victims of this cruel policy to end. However, the first step towards making that happen is to know about it. Similarly, to most Americans, this might be your very first time hearing the term ‘food deserts'.
The meme of the overweight American eating takeout rather than fresh fruit and vegetables is portrayed throughout popular media all around the world. Now you can look at that portrayal in a new light - an action done, not by choice but often as a necessity to survive.
As recruiters, we know that the candidates we hire often go to top universities. However, when a commodity such as access to food limits your development and sets you several steps behind your counterparts simply due to your location – something many of us don’t even need to think about, catching up on the race of academia becomes tedious and draining.
We are part of the meritocratic system meaning that those who work hard can progress up the ladder and earn higher salaries of which they are deserving. This is why this issue should be one that we care about because for meritocracy to exist then everyone has to have an equal shot at the start of the race and for that to happen then we have to make sure that the starting base is as fair as possible.
You might be asking how this is even possible and the simple fact is that the way to fix this has existed in the past and many of those reading this were beneficiaries of this system. You were likely given fresh fruit and a drink (often milk) during break time when you were in nursery and the early years of primary school. This policy came into existence due to schools complaining that kids were coming into schools with chocolate bars and crisps as snacks. Although this would be a small step to take in dealing with the issue of food deserts in America, it would be an important first step to take to begin to tackle this issue at its roots.
Find out more about Food Deserts in the following video:
At Broadgate, part of Trinnovo Group, it is our strategic default to align with our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Framework, demonstrating our commitment and social impact and ensuring our charitable partners support each of our seven pillars; LGBTQIA+, Ethnicity, Gender, Accessibility, Mental Health, Veterans and Socio-Economic.