Let Them Eat Kale: The Misplaced Narrative of Food Access
31 Pages Posted: 20 Jun 2018
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
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