You know what? Everyone wants to talk about fat. Everyone wants to talk about how people overindulge in food. Let’s take a moment to talk about one of the dirtiest little secrets in America: nearly one quarter of all children in this country go to bed hungry most nights.
Think about that for a moment. One in four.
And I’m not talking about eating disorders here, though they are important to talk about. No, I’m talking about poverty. I’m talking about lack of access to food. I’m talking food deserts, here, people.
What is a food desert? I’m glad you asked! The USDA released a map last week that explains and illustrates just this thing.
How does the USDA define a food desert? In simplest terms (you can get more details here) it’s an area where at least 500 people and/or 33% of the people in a given area have to travel more than one mile to reach a supermarket or large grocery store (the range is expanded to ten miles in rural settings).
Just one little mile? you may scoff. But think about it. If you don’t have a car, then that mile (one way) gets a little longer. Coming back with as many groceries as you can carry in your arms on foot or on public transportation gets not only longer and harder, but more futile. That ten pound sack of flour may be on sale at the market a mile away, but if you buy it, that means you can’t carry as many beans or oranges or hamburger patties. You may not be able to carry that ten pound sack for a mile, anyway.
And no grocery store doesn’t mean there’s no food in a food desert. It just means there’s less of it at much higher prices, and often of significantly lower quality.
There are liquor stores and Quickie Marts and dollar stores and fast food outlets and the occasional tiny mom and pop grocery that can’t compete against large chains like Whole Foods, Safeway, and the like in their pricing. Sure, you can go to any of those places (except for Mickey D’s) and get a quart of milk for your kids… at nearly twice the price. Packages are often tiny since space is at a premium, so buying in bulk from down the block isn’t even possible. As for variety? Don’t make me laugh.
And then we have San Antonio. If you’ve been following the Fatosphere over the past few days, chances are you’ve heard about this. The USDA is giving two million dollars to fund a program in San Antonio, TX to monitor what elementary school kids eat in the cafeteria at lunch.
High tech imaging cameras will be used to document what the children “pile onto their trays” (yes, that’s the wording in the article that started the fuss), and then what they leave uneaten.
If the purpose of this exercise were to take an anonymous look at what foods are and are not being eaten with a view to making school lunches more appealing to children or reduce waste, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. I don’t want money wasted on foods children won’t eat, and I do want kids well fed.
But the purpose here is not to improve the program to serve children better. Oh no, it’s not. It’s monitoring each individual child using bar codes. Oh, and the results will be shared with parents in hopes that the parents will then change their home eating habits.
Okay, for one moment, let’s put aside the invasiveness of this program, the serious potential to build resentment and ultimately bizarre and perverse rebellions on the part of small children. Let’s even ignore the fact that even though this is a program parents must opt into, some 90% of parents signed the permission slips (Baa baa!).
The school chosen to be the guinea pig here is an area of serious poverty. The other campuses that will soon join the program are also in poverty-stricken areas.
Researches selected poor, minority campuses where obesity rates and students at risk for diabetes are higher.
You know what else is higher in these areas? The number of children who participate in free or reduced-price lunch programs and free breakfast programs because otherwise they have little to no access to regular meals.
And then we’re going to make them feel self-conscious about wanting a freaking French fry.
There are no words.