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Historical Origins and Ongoing Impact of Food Deserts

Communities throughout the United States are grappling with a troubling issue – food deserts. This problem challenges public health and social equity by limiting access to fresh, nutritious foods every individual needs for optimal well-being. While this is unfortunate across many neighbourhoods in the country, it is especially prevalent among low-income residents who face increased marginalization. Understanding how food deserts came about and continue impacting society today requires understanding their historical context. By exploring these origins, we can better understand why marginalized communities struggle so much, allowing us clarity in moving forward toward practical solutions that mitigate or negate them entirely. This essay explores the historical origins of food deserts and their prolonged impact on contemporary society.

The idea of food deserts was first introduced in the 1990s as experts acknowledged the discrepancies concerning access to fresh and wholesome meals among underprivileged communities. Nevertheless, this problem can be traced back to the mid-1900s when suburbanization rose following World War II, coinciding with an urban decline that significantly changed people’s eating habits (Pearson et al. 889). Grocery outlets moved away from inner cities towards the suburbs, depriving residents of healthy dietary choices. Numerous factors contributed to the decay of urban areas, including economic changes and policies that discriminated based on race. African American communities bore a disproportionate burden as redlining- an unfair lending system popularized in the mid-twentieth century – prevented loans and insurance from being issued to neighbourhoods with high minority populations (Pearson et al. 395). This perpetuated racial segregation and economic inequality; businesses such as grocery stores were hesitant to invest due to perceived risks and lower purchasing power. Additionally, the transportation policies implemented during this era had unforeseen effects on urban communities. Notably, the construction of highways frequently cut through established neighbourhoods, creating divisions and decreasing access to crucial resources like food markets. These actions were disproportionately directed towards minority areas which worsened the problem of having limited accessibility to nutritious food stores- also known as “food deserts.”

The development of food deserts was primarily influenced by the federal government, which failed to invest in inner-city communities and allowed discriminatory policies and systemic racism to worsen the situation (Walker et al. 879). The outcomes of redlining practices and biased lending schemes resulted in poverty within urban areas, leaving residents with limited economic prospects. Aside from financial considerations, government choices regarding transportation and infrastructure significantly affected food availability. Inner-city communities were often bypassed or disrupted by highway construction, creating challenges for residents to access grocery stores or farmers’ markets outside their neighbourhoods (Das et al.277). This flawed transportation system contributed to the isolation of these people and consequently led them to experience food insecurity.

The impact of food deserts persists in modern society. The absence of easy access to healthy nourishment has extensive effects on both individuals and communities. Poor nutrition increases ailments caused by diets, such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular issues (Osei-Assibey et al.). Communities with lower income levels already dealing with the strain of limited healthcare resources bear the grave consequences of this health disparity. Furthermore, the existence of food deserts prolongs patterns of poverty and inequality within society. The lack of access to reasonably-priced and healthy meal choices places an extra financial burden on people and households who depend on costly convenience stores or fast-food chains (Osei-Assibey et al. 4). This fuels a destructive cycle where suboptimal health outcomes collide with curtailed economic prospects and exclusion from social networks.

A comprehensive approach is necessary to tackle the problem of food deserts. It entails cooperation among stakeholders, including government bodies, non-profit organizations and local communities. To this end, governmental policies should encompass measures like offering incentives for grocery stores to operate in areas with limited access to fresh produce, creating community gardens, and funding public transport systems servicing those regions (Walker et al.889-890). Non-profits can contribute by educating people about nutrition issues and promoting farmers’ markets initiatives encouraging food accessibility while providing assistance where required. In addition, engaging with the community is imperative to comprehend and address the unique requirements and difficulties encountered by each locality. Encouraging local communities to create solutions – like food cooperatives or urban farming ventures led by them- may encourage fair and stable systems for nourishment (Osei-Assibey et al.). Initiating educational programs promoting awareness about nutrition and culinary skills can give individuals a sense of empowerment that enables them to make healthier choices irrespective of their limitations.

In conclusion, food deserts are multifaceted and persistent, rooted in past discriminatory policies, urban development practices, and socioeconomic disparities. The consequences of limited access to fresh and wholesome foods continue to affect marginalized communities by perpetuating cycles of poverty and creating health inequalities. Addressing this challenge requires a comprehensive approach involving government intervention, active community engagement, and education initiatives to promote healthier food choices. By incentivizing grocery store establishment and supporting grassroots movements led by residents while fostering nutrition awareness programs, we can build an equitable society with accessible healthy food for all individuals- irrespective of their economic circumstances or background. Our collective efforts toward these ends promise to realize more robustly nourishing systems.


Das, Himadry Shekhar, et al. “Fuel Cell Hybrid Electric Vehicles: A Review on Power Conditioning Units and Topologies.” Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, vol. 76, Sept. 2017, pp. 268–91, It was accessed on 22 Mar. 2019.

Osei-Assibey, George, et al. “The Influence of the Food Environment on Overweight and Obesity in Young Children: A Systematic Review.” BMJ Open, vol. 2, no. 6, 2012, p. e001538, Accessed 19 Jan. 2020.

Pearson, David, et al. “Local Food: Understanding Consumer Motivations in Innovative Retail Formats.” British Food Journal, vol. 113, no. 7, July 2011, pp. 886–99, It was accessed on 11 Dec. 2019.

Walker, Renee E., et al. “Disparities and Access to Healthy Food in the United States: A Review of Food Deserts Literature.” Health & Place, vol. 16, no. 5, Sept. 2010, pp. 876–84, It was accessed on 27 June 2019.


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