Food Culture in USA: Food Deserts
Food culture is a phenomenon which is directly related to how food is produced, distributed and consumed in a given cultural context. An exact definition of the term “food culture” would depend on the lens that it has been viewed with. Food culture can be viewed from a sociological, psychological or culture specific lens. For this essay, I would like to define food culture from a culture specific perspective according to which, food culture cold be defined as the sum of practices, attitudes, believe systems and the means that surround the production, distribution and consumption of food in a given cultural context. Some aspects of a culture may impact food more than others. For example the accessibility of specific cultures to specific food may be a great influence on food selection within that culture. The same way the environments in which different cultures flourish may also influence food selection (“Factors Influencing Food Choices in Humans”).
There are different variables that can impact a food culture in a country or specific region. A food culture does not have to be completely indigenous, in fact, there could be many alien influences on a food culture. People immigrating from outside cultures can have an influence on the food culture of the host society. These immigrants bring with them their own diet preferences which influence their food choices. They bring in the ingredients of their native food with them and start to find the means to produce, distribute and consume their native food. This native food may become a part of the diets of the hosting cultures. There is evidence that the food that immigrants bring in with them could well be a best health choice than some of the food choice that is already consumed in a society (Kittler, Pamela Goyan et al.). This suggests that adopting to new food preferences and evolving a food culture may always not be a bad idea. For example many Indians are vegetarians because eating non vegetarian is forbidden in Hindu religion which is the religion of the majority Indians (Hamilton, Malcolm). Addition of different vegetarian food items to the menu due to the influence of Indian immigrants is definitely a healthy option in my opinion.
Different food cultures may have different issues pertaining to health outcomes. Same is the case in adopting to other food cultures. For example, research has indicated that Latino families that immigrate to USA may have overweight and obesity issues during their cultural adaptation to US fast food (Sussner, Katarina M. et al.). Obesity and overweightness is related to poor diet and wrong food preferences. Food provide us with the necessary energy that we need to function and perform our daily tasks. But, an excess of food calories can be troublesome.
Due to socio-economic reasons, different cultures may be responsible to create eating options that compel an unhealthy food selection process. For example food deserts are directly related to the overall diet quality (Cummins, S.). My further discussion is based on responding to this article. Food deserts are the quality food deprived areas due to deficiency or nonexistence of cheap and quality food providers. USDA suggests that the existence of food deserts is a big problem due to the non-availability of fresh fruits and vegetables and convenient availability of sugary, processed and laden food at different quickie marts. According to the article by Cummins, food deserts are a contributor to the national obesity epidemic. I, personally agree to this criticism of food deserts and I do consider them to be a contributor to poor food choices and hence the obesity epidemic. In the coming sections of this essay, I would like to defend this stance and provide evidence in favor of my opinion. I would elaborate the issue of food deserts from different aspects. Towards the end of the essay, I will provide my recommendations related to the issue of food deserts.
When a food culture of abundant option to eat unhealthy food like fast food, fried chicken and cheeseburgers and negligible options to eat healthy food is developed, there is a high risk of food diet associate disorders like obesity. What can you expect if it is easy to eat an Italian pasta on Friday, Chinese chicken fried rice on Saturday and a big American cheeseburger on Sunday? The development of food deserts in America has been going on over a long period of time. Access to affordable and nutritious food is difficult in food deserts. Communities with low incomes and existed at distance from superstores or just grocery stores are the most victims of deficiency of nutritious food. The individuals in these communities may not have a personal automobile that can be used to go to a supermarket and buy cheap and nutritious food there. Instead, they heavily rely on local fast food points and quickie marts. The consumption of fast food could cause obesity. These underprivileged communities do not have access to quality medical facilities due to many reasons, which makes their health problems more severe. There is also lack of social services to assist these underprivileged people because of uneven resource distribution due to many social, economic and political reasons (Tsitsos, William).
Research has indicated that there is an abundance of cheap fast food restaurants in food deserts (Walker, Renee E. et al.). The fast food is of substandard because it has to be offered on low prices due to the low purchasing power of the underprivileged people living in these food deserts. Fast food has many negative consequences on the human body. Fast food is a source of blood sugar increase that could cause an insulin resistance in a human body resulting in diabetes (Pietrangelo, Ann). Fast food can also increase the blood cholesterol level causing high blood pressure. The negative effects of fast food on different bodily glands that produce different secretions required by the body can contribute to headaches, shortness of breath, depression and acne. Food deserts are prune to all of these negative consequences of fast food, which not only cause disruption in the lives of the people living in these areas, but also put pressure on the social services available to these people.
The problem with the people living in food deserts are not limited to the non-availability of quality food at affordable prices, there are many other problems faced by them. For example, according to a report by Food Empowerment Project (FEP), these communities are overlooked by the governments and it is a challenging task to reach out to these communities relying only on government statistics (“Food Deserts | Food Empowerment Project”). FEP also found that the organic items like bananas sold at the stores in food deserts were sold individually. The owners of the stores have the freedom to price these items as they wished. Therefore, the residents had to spend more than they would spend in a superstore on these items. FEP also found that the majority of the residents of the food deserts were communities of color with low incomes. This points towards the fact that America still has a long way to go towards an equal treatment of all of its citizens. The evidence provided by FEP suggests that we have to recognize that a food crisis exist in food deserts. We, as individuals and as a society must recognize this fact and find plausible solutions for the issues faced by these food districts.
In my opinion, this the primary responsibility of the government to effectively reach out to these communities and listen to their problems. There is a need to allocate financial and administrative resources to elevate the lives of the communities living in food deserts. Enormous public awareness is needed in this regard as well. Food deserts are growing. So are the social and medical issues associate with them. I think, that prevention is better than cure. Before these communities grow any further, there must be a road map to stop its growth. More educational facilities should be provided in such areas and other areas which are at the brink of becoming food deserts. The more the residents of these areas are educated, the more opportunities they will be able to help their communities.
There is a lot that can be done on an individual level, in my opinion. We need to recognize the hardships of food deserts. We can help educate our fellow members of the society about the status of food deserts and how they may influence the overall society if they keep on deteriorating and expanding. There is a need to educate the residents of food deserts to grow their own food. Kitchen gardens can be a positive way forward.
Cummins, Steven. “Food deserts.” The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Health, Illness, Behavior, and Society (2014)
“Factors Influencing Food Choices In Humans”. CLIK, 2016, http://clik.dva.gov.au/reports-studies-research-papers-library/research-and-health-studies/animal-fat-australian-diet/7-factors-influencing-food-choices-humans