Adminstrator's note: The following piece was written by SSL Guest Contributor Ifeoma Ajunwa and was reposted from RightRespect. Ifeoma is about to begin her Ph.D at Columbia University in Sociology. She can be reached at email@example.com for comments.)
In honor of Maryland’s passage of the nation’s first “Benefit Corporation” bill signed into law today, we have collaborated with our contributor Ifeoma Ajunwa to address an area ripe for socially-minded entrepreneurs, eliminating food deserts and promoting the right to food here in the United States.
Access to healthful food is a human rights issue. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights[i] which is adopted by the United Nations affirmed that: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food.” “Food deserts[ii]” are community areas with little or no access to affordable, quality, and nutritious food. These communities, found in such cities as Detroit, Los Angeles, Memphis, and Newark, and most of which are largely populated by blacks and Latinos, suffer from a dearth of supermarkets, and can only rely on fast-food chains and corner stores that sell mostly liquor and some produce at exorbitant prices. About 23 million people, of whom about 6.5 million are children, inhabit low-income urban and rural spaces where the nearest supermarket is more than a mile away — keeping in mind that many low-income families can not afford a car. For an extreme example, nearly 633,000 of Chicago’s population live in communities that lack nearby supermarkets[iii].
Recently, First Lady Michelle Obama penned a cover story for Newsweek magazine in which she detailed her fight against the growing rates of obesity in school age American children. Obesity brings with it a host of health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Further, high obesity rates negatively impact the economy as millions of tax-payer dollars are spent each year in treating the chronic diseases that stem from it. Since, as the First Lady noted, a third of American children are either overweight or obese, the fight against obesity is a matter of national concern.
In an effort to combat this problem, the First Lady has launched “Let’s Move[iv],” a program that employs several different tactics to help children and their parents towards the goal of a healthy weight. The strategies include: offering parents the tools to make better food choices for their children; a push towards more healthful food options at schools via the Healthier US Schools Challenge Program and the updating of the Child Nutrition Act; more physical activities for children; and the elimination of “food deserts.”
As part of the Fiscal Year 2011 budget, the Administration proposes the Healthy Food Financing Initiative which will invest $400 million a year to fund innovative projects that bring grocery stores to “food deserts” and other underserved areas. The Administration also plans to use grants to entice farmer’s markets and fresh food services to areas where they are currently lacking.
Not only will the elimination of “food deserts” boost the health of many of America’s population, the financial incentives for doing so will also revitalize the economy by providing new opportunities for entrepreneurship.
There are several pioneers who can serve as positive examples for entrepreneurs willing to take advantage of the fertile business climate of “food deserts.” One such trailblazer is Karriem Beyah[v], who runs Farmers Best Market, a store he recently opened in a predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood of Chicago known as Back of the Yards, and which had been abandoned by large supermarket chains. Another is William Allen[vi], a 2008 recipient of the MacArthur “Genius” award who founded Growing Power, a non-profit farming business. Through Growing Power[vii], Allen uses both rural and urban farming — at sites like Merton, Milwaukee, and Chicago — to bring fresh produce and meat products to low-income urban residents at a reduced price. His organization also offers internships that train minorities, immigrants and other interested participants to produce healthful food in their communities.
With the Obama administration wiling to invest millions of dollars to making the steps of all Americans a bit lighter, socially-minded entrepreneurs need only find a “desert” that needs cultivating to get their businesses off and running.
[i] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted and proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948.