A food desert plagues the people of Philadelphia. It’s time for new solutions.

For more than half a century, Philadelphia, like other big cities in America, has struggled to solve its food dessert problem. That’s when the neighborhood ran out of stores that residents could rely on to purchase fresh, healthy food.

The simplest explanation for the disparities not found in wealthy neighborhoods is cost. One study concluded that a healthy diet rich in vegetables, fruits, fish and nuts costs about $550 more per person per year than a diet rich in processed foods, meat and refined grains. . A store with revenue to avoid products that customers cannot afford.

The consequences of this extend beyond understanding what’s in your dinner.People without access to healthy foods are more likely to develop a range of illnesses with lifelong consequences. If we want to understand why there are often large disparities in health between the United States and high-income regions, food deserts are one explanation.

Entrepreneurial approaches to watering urban food deserts have largely failed. Progress Plaza was the brainchild of Reverend Leon H. Sullivan, a civil rights leader in North Philadelphia, and included his A&P store when it opened in 1968. A&P folded in his 2015, but the store’s current operator, the New Jersey-based Fresh Grocer chain, has similar concerns.

» Read more: Fighting Food Apartheid: Black Entrepreneurs and Leaders Fight 60 Years of Retail Redlines to Bring Supermarkets to North Philadelphia

Such issues, outlined in a study on food deserts by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, are not unique to Philadelphia. One is low customer purchasing power. Some customers are enrolled in nutritional supplement programs and their ability to purchase food may change from month to month. Stores may also pay higher premiums and security costs due to higher actual or perceived crime rates.

With supermarket chains shunning them and the family-owned stores of yesteryear no longer exist, many residents of low-income communities buy their food from small corner stores, convenience markets, grocery stores and fast food outlets. I have no other choice. Fresh fruits and vegetables are rarely included.

The pandemic has only exacerbated the situation, forcing the closure of smaller shops and stores whose customer bases have collapsed. Some food dessert solutions being attempted in Philadelphia might work well if you look beyond entrepreneurship as an answer.

Baltimore, for example, has worked closely with Joel Gittelson, a medical anthropologist at Johns Hopkins University, who, since 2005, has conducted six studies on what he likes to call food swamps. “There are a lot of foods that are high in fat, high in sugar and high in sodium,” Gittelson told Politico.

Gittelsohn has helped takeaway restaurants change their menus to avoid fried foods and corner grocers stock healthier foods. He points out that many small stores stock junk food and sugary drinks because they have informal agreements with “potato chip and ice cream vendors.” However, if you want to stock low-fat milk or fresh food, there is no such system. “

» Read more: What is food insecurity? How Philadelphia is navigating hunger, food shortages and access to good food.

Gittelsohn is working with non-profit grocers run by the Salvation Army to create an app that allows small grocers to pool their purchasing power and buy produce from wholesalers who typically have too high minimum purchase requirements. created. He also worked with Morgan State University, a historically black university, to launch a pilot program on his Lyft that offers his $2.50 ride to the grocery store for residents in low-income neighborhoods. I’m here.

Baltimore offers property tax credits to supermarkets in designated areas that meet requirements for the volume of health foods they sell. The city’s health department created a virtual supermarket web program that allows seniors to order groceries online and have them delivered to designated locations near their homes.

SNAP also has an online purchasing program, and Pennsylvania participants include Aldi’s, BJs, Sam’s Club, ShopRite, Sprouts, Wegmans, Walmart and Whole Foods.However, the equivalent federal government The program was piloted in the 2014 Federal Farm Bill and has never been made permanent. Until that happens, cities like Philadelphia should follow Baltimore’s example and consider making online shopping a viable alternative for delivering fresh produce to food desserts.

About 40 million Americans (12.8% of the US population) live in low-income neighborhoods with limited grocery shopping options. Waiting for supermarket chains to come to the rescue has proven futile for too many regions. Instead, local governments should work with nonprofits, public policy organizations, health departments and local store owners to develop viable alternatives for getting fresh produce to more homes. The road is there. All you need is the will.

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