Let Them Eat Kale: The Misplaced Narrative of Food Access

31 Pages Posted: 20 Jun 2018

See all articles by Nathan Rosenberg

Nathan Rosenberg

Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic; University of Arkansas School of Law

Nevin Cohen

CUNY Graduate School of Public Health

Date Written: May 30, 2018


In recent years, policymakers, nongovernmental organizations, and activists have supported policies to eliminate disparities in access to healthy food and, by doing so, reduce diet-related chronic diseases. These efforts have involved a wide range of interventions, from the creation of new farmers’ markets to programs encouraging convenience stores to sell fresh produce. One of the most prominent food access interventions uses incentives to lure supermarkets to so- called “food deserts,” communities deemed to have insufficient full- service food retail. Federal, state, and municipal governments have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize supermarket development through such programs. However, research has shown that merely expanding access to food retail has no appreciable effect on shopping patterns, food choices, health, obesity, or diet-related diseases. Support for these interventions has nonetheless continued to grow — obscuring underlying issues and detracting from more effective strategies.

This Article examines the emergence of food access as a policy issue, current approaches to increasing food access, and possible alternatives. Part I discusses the development of the current food access narrative, focusing on its appeal to policymakers, urban planners, and public health officials. Part II describes policies to increase access to food retail. Part III reviews research on the relationship between food retail and health outcomes. Part IV examines why increasing food access persists as a policy goal despite its demonstrated failure to reduce health inequities. Finally, Part V proposes alternative strategies for reducing economic and health disparities within food systems.

Keywords: food access, food justice, food poverty, healthy food financing, food deserts, urban policy, food policy, food law

Suggested Citation

Rosenberg, Nathan and Cohen, Nevin, Let Them Eat Kale: The Misplaced Narrative of Food Access (May 30, 2018). Fordham Urban Law Journal, Vol. 45, No. 4, 2018. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3189523

Nathan Rosenberg (Contact Author)

Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic ( email )

122 Boylston St
Boston, MA 02130
United States

University of Arkansas School of Law ( email )

260 Waterman Hall
Fayetteville, AR 72701
United States

Nevin Cohen

CUNY Graduate School of Public Health ( email )

New York, NY

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