Thursday, February 25, 2016

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Groceries from a Food Desert in Indianapolis

Of all the research I did before moving to Indianapolis from Denver (looking at crime maps, flood maps, demographics by neighborhood, tax rates, growth policies, local news, and Google street view over time), none of it suggested I'd have to try to shop in a food desert. Not even when I came here on reconnaissance and shopped at the co-op in the area I was planning to move to did I realize I was in the middle of a food desert. That's right--you can have a grocery store in the middle of a food desert. Here are some groceries I bought at Pogue's Run, a co-op in the food desert just above the word "Indianapolis" in the map in the link above.

Purchased in a food desert: free range eggs, coconut milk, fresh produce, beef and raw cheese from grass-fed cows, and bacon and lard from pastured pigs. I couldn't find real lard even back in trendy, crowded, overpriced Denver. The animal products are all from here in Indiana. Would that everyone lived in such a desert.
The co-op carries cage-free chickens, too, but they're cheaper (and plucked better) at the Kroger down the street. Kroger has grass-fed ground beef and a much bigger selection of produce, gluten-free this and that, and cage-free eggs, but they don't carry beef tongue, heart or liver and their butter doesn't compare to Organic Valley, sold at Pogue's Run. Neither store has a big enough selection of Quest bars.

How is it even possible to compare the finer points of fresh, healthy, top-notch foods from two stores, one of which is in a food desert? It's the way food deserts are defined:

  • 20 percent to 40 percent of residents must make 200 percent or less of the federal poverty level
  • In an urban area, residents must have to travel a mile or more to get to groceries 
  • In a rural area they must have to travel more than 10 miles to get groceries(1)


Note that the definition isn't "There aren't any groceries in food deserts." What it amounts to is a low-income neighborhood. There's the distance thing, but even most poor people have cars.(2) There are cars parked up and down streets with crumbling, abandoned houses. Further, the aforementioned stores are on a bus line with only 20 minutes between stops--a lot handier (and a lot safer around the co-op) than a long walk home loaded down with groceries.

What about Ft. Harrison State Park? It's one big food desert on the map. Of course there aren't any grocery stores there, but do we need them there? If there are people squatting in the park, is someone supposed to build a grocery store for them?

All of this makes me think that good quality groceries aren't  nearly as inaccessible as they're made out to be. If they were, "food deserts" would have an obvious definition: a place where you can't get decent food.

1. "Indianapolis Ranks Worst in the Nation for Food Deserts" by Sara Wittmeyer. Indiana Public Media, May 30, 2014. http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/indianapolis-ranks-worst-nation-food-deserts-67800/
2. "Understanding Poverty in the United States: Surprising Facts about America's Poor" by Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield. The Heritage Foundation, September 11, 2013. http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/09/understanding-poverty-in-the-united-states-surprising-facts-about-americas-poor