Students from an urban HBCU and a predominately white rural university joined forces to investigate the tangled web that is America’s food system.
This project put student journalists in the field to report on food insecurity in rural West Virginia and urban Baltimore. The young reporters investigated the complex economic structures of a system that produces abundant surpluses of food, and at the same time, cannot provide 41.2 million Americans access to an affordable, healthy diet. They discovered their worlds shared deep similarities amid differences. “In Baltimore, there is a whole bunch of people in one area with no food, and in West Virginia, everyone lives in separate areas and there’s only one place for food,” said Morgan State University’s Synclaire Cruel. “It’s like the complete opposite, but we have the same issues.”
Many scholars and food access experts don’t like the term ‘food desert’ because implies a naturally occurring process. As Phil Howard, assistant professor of community, agriculture, recreation and resource studies at Michigan State University, said, “What’s really been happening in some areas described as ‘food deserts’ is that they used to have supermarkets or chain grocery stores, and those stores have been shut down as they’ve been opening new stores in the suburbs. It’s not a natural phenomenon at all.” Pacific Standard – May 6, 2011 We developed a short video to help understand the human activity that produces food deserts.
What's A Food Desert?
“Food desert” is commonly used term for a socially distressed neighborhood with relatively low average household incomes and poor access to healthy and affordable food. Click on See More for video.
Over a three-month period, we spoke with researchers, scholars and experts, community food activists, urban farmers, church pantry volunteers, food bank staff, soup kitchen helpers, clergy and local politicians about the challenges of making healthy food affordable and locally accessible, and their views on the ideal of eradicating hunger. We also talked with people on the streets of Baltimore and small-town Appalachia, hoping to learn what they think of America’s intractable food insecurity problem and why one of the wealthiest nations in the world cannot adequately feed all of its citizens.
In people-on-the-street interviews, grocery shoppers in Baltimore and West Virginia shared their reaction to words about food, hunger and government assistance that revealed common attitudes across cultural and geographic divides.