A Chicagoan’s Perspective on 'Food Deserts'

I grew up in the Englewood community on Chicago’s South Side. Among the 5+ apartments in which I resided with my family, I spent a large chunk of the 80’s near 63rd and Ashland – in a Food Desert. ‘Food Deserts’ are getting a lot of press these days, and for good reason on many levels. By definition, a Food Desert is a “district with little or no access to foods needed to maintain a healthy diet but often served by plenty of fast food.” One bothersome theme that has entered the conversation is that Food Deserts are the main reason why people have poor diets and engage in unhealthy eating behaviors. The argument has become a crutch in a few circles and is now cropping up on national television via public health professionals and TV pundits.

Having grown up in a Food Desert with no running vehicle, my family still managed to hit the main chain grocery stores for fresh meats and produce. Instead of shopping at the local convenience stores, my mother had us walk and sometimes ride the bus, to get healthy foods. As a result, we accumulated large amounts of physical activity each week.

Now, my mother was always a physically active woman, even though she didn’t engage in structured exercise. She didn’t believe in idleness, especially when it came to her children. So, in an effort to keep her children physically active during the week, my mother mandated household chores, even if there was nothing to do. Weekends were especially active, namely Saturday as this was the day during which my mother shopped for groceries. The nearest main chain grocery store was approximately 3 miles away and, again, my parents didn’t own a running vehicle.

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