Nanny State

NYT Dives Back Into the Food Desert Swamp


Last week, I noted a contradiction in The New York Times' coverage of the low-income, low-grocery store neighborhoods known as food deserts. The print edition covered two new studies suggesting that access to fresh fruits and vegetables was not the problem policymakers had made it out to be, while a blog on website suggested the the problem of access to fresh fruits and vegetables could be solved (at least in part) by authorizing food carts to sell produce in low-income neighborhoods. 

Today, that late-to-the-party blogger, David Bornstein, issues a semi-mea culpa.

When I wrote my column last week, I had not seen this new research. Since then, I read the studies, as well as a number of others, and spoke to more food experts. I'm still convinced that convenient access to fresh food remains a significant barrier for many low-income people around the country, but I have been persuaded that the standard way "food deserts" have been defined may overemphasize—and in some cases mischaracterize—the problem of access.

What follows in a thoughtful take on what is really going on—considering "food prices, preparation time and knowledge, marketing, general levels of education, transportation, cultural practices and taste" as possible factors in the vegetal divide between rich and poor.

But while Gina Kolata's print story on new academic literature about food deserts was excellent, it was hardly breaking news. Another study with similar findings have been making the rounds since last year, and even if you don't indulge in the dreck truth published here at Reason, you might have seen it mentioned in papers like The Washington Post.

By the end of the column, Bornstein has bargained himself down to quantifying the food desert problem as a pretty minor issue indeed, working his way down to an estimate of about 2.5 million low-income households located more than half a mile from a grocery store who lack access to a car. We might want to think about policy solutions to help these folks, but they do not explain why Americans are Twinkie-eating lard butts.