first off, happy thanksgiving to everyone. at least everyone reading this who's of the american persuasion. should you be from suriname or bosnia-herzegovina, i hope you've enjoyed celebrating your countries on this, your day of independence. and to those from moquegua, peru, i bid a happy anniversary to your city.
i learned something else this week that has nothing to do with holidays. i live in one of 803 food deserts in the united states. i can't think of a better fact to learn during the week of thanksgiving when all that's on many of our minds is, well, food.
so what exactly is a food desert, you ask?
a food desert, according to lois morton and troy blanchard, is a county or parish (don't want to leave the louisianans out) in which more than 50% of the residents live 10 or more miles from a full-service grocery store. you may not have believed me when i said that we live god knows where, but here is scientific proof. the closest full-service grocery store to me is 21.9 miles away.
within those 21.9 miles are the following "food" outlets:
- bennie's food mart and chinese/fast food take out
it sometimes results in barbecue chicken lo mein, but the egg rolls are out of this world.
- the webb diner
ms. vera cooks up delicious breakfasts and lunches six days a week.
- the bayou bend country club
morgan freeman's a member, the fried chicken's good, but alas i am not a member.
- three gas stations with plate lunch options
probably delicious, but i've seen too much horrible gas station cuisine to dive in.
- the lunchbox
think all your favorite fried foods, served with your favorite sides, and sweet tea.
- dollar general
good for dried goods, notebook paper, and the occasional gag gift, but not a lot else.
there you have it. the culinary options of west tallahatchie and east coahoma counties outside my kitchen.
sure i can get great egg rolls, grits, fried chicken, and catfish whenever i want - provided that whenever i want takes place between 7am and 6pm - but there are only so many combinations you can make from those ingredients before you end up 37 pounds the wider and in much need of those things called vitamins that often show up in vegetables. plus, who wants to live like man v. food everyday?
learning about the sheer absence of full-service grocery store is one thing when you're just living it. sure, it's been a hassle to make the 40+ mile round trip to go to the store, but it's what everyone around us does. you just learn to plan ahead...or at least you try.
but seeing it on a map is entirely different.
the dark areas are the food deserts. whenever i look at a map i always try to find me. sometimes i'm pleasantly surprised like when i looked at the electoral map of 2008 and saw that my county in north carolina went for barack obama and helped carry the state. other times, a stark realization hits like when i saw this map. but then i said to myself, "hey, at least i don't live in south dakota."
i find it interesting that the predominance of these deserts occur in the breadbox of our wonderful country, those midwestern states known for their fields of grain, corn, and other staple crops. that seems to be the definition of irony. it's like the quip that people who build big houses don't live in them. well, people who grow great amounts of country's food supply can't get an apple with out burning up a couple gallons of gas either.
we've all heard about this push for local food. it's healthier. it's better for the local economy. yada yada yada. it seems like it's going to be necessary for folks in rural america. some folks are already on the boat (or should i say farm). there are csa's and co-ops popping up all over the place. hell, my uncle in brooklyn even has a garden in the alley behind his apartment. if he can grow tomatoes, potatoes, and other staples in an alley in a city 12 million strong, i think we can figure out how to do it reliably across rural america.
many already have, but i also know that there are a great many who live in rural areas, especially the mississippi delta and appalachia, who haven't and need to do because while they may be overweight and on the short track to diabetes and other health problems, they're also malnourished.
i can't forget the kids i saw on tv last summer who, when asked to name certain vegetables, might as well have been blurting out their favorite justin bieber songs. they had no clue. they didn't even know that french fries came from potatoes. we've come a long way to a place where we think food comes from a store and not from the ground or from an animal that actually lived somewhere before we ate it in nugget form.
there are many reasons for this shift, but i'm firmly on the local food bandwagon now. with the local groceries that used to dot small communities around our country being driven out of business by larger conglomerate stores and more people moving to urban areas, those who remain in rural america will continue to have the quality of their food dictated by elements outside their control.
i'm not exactly sure where this is headed for me personally, but i'll keep you posted on life on the bandwagon as long as i'm on it. and i'll stay on it if for no other reason than i'd rather pick a small bunch of tomatoes out of my backyard than drive forty miles to buy them from walmart.
photos from here, here, and here.