Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Food Desert Blooms

The idea of the "food desert," which even Michelle Obama has made a centerpiece, may not be real, according to the NYT Research section.

First, this research, while clever enough is not a thorough dismantling of the food desert idea, though it does undermine it.

Second, the national discussion of obesity/nutrition/eating habits seems to be so fraught with unchecked assumptions that it might be best if we all just mentally reset our thoughts on the matter to "Well, we aren't that sure of what we're sure of."  Like education, parenting, and other homey topics, everyone seems to think their feelings about what should be the right answer must be true.

The old Bedford NH town history - the one that has my grandmother and her friends at Pulpit Rock - records a preacher at the 150th anniversary of the town (about 1900) admonishing the women of Bedford that the reason the children of the current generation were not so hardy as their forebears was because they did not get enough of that good dark oat bread their Scottish ancestors had.  And those mothers had better get cracking on that.
Third, Danger, danger Will Robinson! The government response, from Justin DeJong at the Department of Agriculture, claims that a "comprehensive response" is what is needed.  I am previously on record warning that left or right, these are words that should send any practical person screaming.  Comprehensive anything is doomed.  Fix manageable bits, dammit.


Texan99 said...

I've been seeing an ad for some kind of charity lately, with the tagline that "16% of American families struggle with hunger." They what? Not unless you count overeating as struggling with hunger. There are weird beliefs about food.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

That statistic usually includes some variation of "food insecurity." Bad Data, Bad! had a discussion about defining one's terms today.

It often means that at some point in the year or month, the main provider worries whether there will be enough money for food.

That is unfortunate, but it's not struggling with hunger. The mentally ill and developmentally disabled, living on little, are the people who have poverty problems

The real problems for the rest of the poor are living in dangerous neighborhoods and not having hope. Those are legit problems, but they aren't easy to solve, or rather to appear that one is solving, so politicians stay away from those.

Kitten said...

Someone picked up my tweet of this article and put it in something called Bloggers' Daily. I'm assuming that's a good thing, although I've neber heard of Bloggers' Daily so can't be sure.

Texan99 said...

Yes, it's pretty clear to me that poor families struggle with a lot of things, including how to make ends meet generally, but hunger, no. In this culture, you just about have to be mentally ill for hunger to be a genuine issue -- some kind of cognitive breakdown would have to get between you and the copious food support available for everyone from children to elderly shut-ins.

Which is not to discount how dreadful a spot the mentally ill are in at all, it's just to say that the problem is with mental illness rather than with poverty-induced hunger.

There are truly hungry people in the world still. It's no trivial matter, and not to be compared to problems like how conveniently located the nearest organic market is, or the lack of education in identifying "high quality" calories.

Douglas2 said...

My wife worked with a food-bank charity and I was very dubious about the numbers for "children going to bed hungry every night" that they used. They were well sourced from other reputable charities, but when you started following the chain you realised it was a circular one.

20 years ago I lived in a poor urban area and by every definition of "food desert" I've seen, it was one. I did try to live in and of the neighborhood, but in the end I felt very fortunate to have a car so that I could escape the to the suburb where the rich people lived -- where one could find produce and meat that actually looked palatable, at cheaper prices no less.

bs king said...

Here's the report for those "hunger insecurity" numbers:

Interestingly, they toss all military or incarcerated people from the numbers. While I see why they did that, it does toss a whole lot of people who are getting enough to eat.

It looks like overall 10% of the population worried about food but never had to modify anything because of resources, and the last 6% actually changed eating habits at least once due to financial concerns.

Texan99 said...

The acid test is, how many Americans lose weight because of financial pressure to cut down on food? Impoverished immigrants come here and eat better than middle-class Americans. Poverty is unpleasant in many ways, but it practically never leads to genuine hunger in the United States.

Sam L. said...

Comprehensive: Everything I and you and them 50,000 other policy wonks and crazed monomaniacs can cram into this bill and squeeze money out for us.

Cynical? Moi??