Mayor’s food program promises hard to fulfill

Illustration by Marleigh Culver

Katherine Johnson

Illustration by Marleigh Culver

In his recent State of the City address, Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones announced a new program that would give the poor better food options and combat food deserts.

The program would provide a monthly shuttle service for Richmond residents to local grocery stores.

Residents that live in areas without quality food options are said to live in “food deserts.” According to the U.S. Census Bureau, “nearly 11 percent of all U.S. households have trouble accessing groceries from established grocers.”

Because of this, much of their food is either purchased from convenience stores or fast food restaurants. Being isolated from grocery stores is a problem because it leads to residents paying for unhealthy and often overpriced foods.

But while the plan has good intentions and helps people extend their food options, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will pick healthier foods or have the money to afford them. The city is on the right track by providing transportation to healthier options, but they can’t control what will happen when residents make their purchases.

Unfortunately, economics do not favor the health of the poor. Healthy food options are more expensive than junk food, no matter where you shop. Families that are already struggling will want to buy the most food that they can at the cheapest price possible, meaning that eating healthy may not be their top priority.

I remember watching “Food Inc.,” in which a family of four lived on fast food, simply because they couldn’t afford the healthier options offered at a grocery store. One of the daughters began to struggle with obesity, and the dad had diabetes. The family felt the negative effects of the food, but decided it was more important to feed their children food than necessarily the right kinds of food.

Those that have access to grocery stores fail to eat healthy, so what makes this case an exception?

Residents will probably look forward to the lower prices of food at a grocery chain instead of an convenience store. Unless the city is going to enforce what the residents buy, it’s not guaranteed that they will choose healthier options like fruits and vegetables.

Instead, the city should help them with purchasing groceries that they approve of or educate them on the benefits of eating healthy. If shoppers don’t see the positives of eating better, they will continue to try to get the most food for their money. They should be given an incentive to make healthier choices, possibly by lowering the cost of fresh or healthy foods or providing food vouchers for certain foods.

Another alternative to taking residents to the store would be bringing the food to them. This way, the city can provide residents with a variety of food choices that should be included in a nutritious diet. The food could be acquired through donations and be run like Operation Blessing, an organization that focuses on hunger relief by providing food with good nutrition to children. If the city chooses to take a similar action, they could substitute the kind of food they ask for in donations and distribute the items to families.

Mayor Jones’ plan has positive intentions. His goal of having a healthier city would be possible if residents were not only given access to grocery stores, but chose to eat healthy. The only loophole to his plan is that, ultimately, the residents will choose how to spend their money, which doesn’t guarantee a healthier lifestyle.

1 Comment

  1. The old argument of “eating healthy is expensive” is such a load of garbage that has been fed to society by marketing. We have come to equate “healthy” with organic. A whole foods (not the store) diet of non-organic fruits, vegetables, grains, etc can be cheaply had. And that is still far better than chips, Twinkies, soda and a bunch of fried, high fat, or highly processed and packaged foods. Yesterday I saw a lady eating a bag of potato chips for breakfast. Cheap? Sure? Cheaper than real food? No way.

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