It’s popular for the upper to middle class of America to tout bootstrapping theories for social progress. Bill Cosby popularly says, “Come on people,” in response to hearing the ongoing plights of the poor. Other mobile classes cry, “you can do better,” as motivation for impoverished communities to save themselves. But many social activists cry that structural change is essential prior to personal change, shaming the Bill Cosbys of the world for their presumptuous commentary. Regardless of which side is right or wrong, personal responsibility is a quicker solution compared to changing the system. Perhaps, it’s time that more food activists advocate for food desert victims to participate in their own rescue, as Walmart can never be the solution to every individual’s woe. How can victims of food injustice participate in their own rescue? Education, good priorities, and budgeting = core values for catalyzing change.

1. Education: The first step is educating ourselves about food, which involves understanding the basics of nutrition and the food politics that are impacting our community. In most urban and low-income neighborhoods, it’s rare that fresh fruits and vegetables are available on every corner, if not overshadowed by the Golden Arches next door. While fast food marketing has created immediate brand recognition, we must reprogram our minds, for survival, to notice the small, healthy grocery store. We need to attend community nutrition classes, if they’re offered. We need to spend some time on the internet and learn about healthy food options. We also have to retrain our palettes to desire fresh spinach over a hamburger, a process that begins with learning the value in eating healthy to prevent ailments such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and heart disease. Once we understand that our food choices are key for community survival, we’ve taken the first step. In order to do better, one must know better.

2. Good Priorities: It’s unfair and unfortunate that the majority of grocery stores that sell healthy food are not close to urban and low-income communities. It’s challenging and often, a test of real dedication to make the 20-30 minute trip to the “good” grocery store. However, we must recognize that finding healthy food is a must, not a luxury. If it takes a weekly community carpool, bus trip, subway ride, or a bit of extra gas in the tank, hitting a grocery store with healthy products won’t kill most people’s schedule or bank accounts. It’s necessary that we make the time instead of claiming it’s not available, as many agree to travel far distances for work or their social lives.

3. Budgeting: McDonald’s has done an effective job at marketing tasty food at a cheap price. But for six dollars per a value meal, that same money could go a longer way and feed more than one person a healthy meal. With six dollars, you could effectively purchase fresh vegetables, sauce, and wheat pasta to serve 4-5 people at most mainstream supermarkets. While Whole Foods has grown a reputation for selling healthy food, it isn’t the only option. In fact, a local Shoprite can offer many of the same products at a cheaper price. If you collect coupons, look at the store sales, and remain conscious of your budget, it’s easy to get a greater nutritional return on your money instead of spending it at the local fast food spot.

What tips for survival would you offer communities stuck in food deserts? Share your thoughts. 

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  1. I love community gardens. They’re relatively ease to create and maintain in urban areas. Also, cheaper to grow most veggies than to buy them.

  2. Another idea for accessing fruits and vegetables is to join a CSA (community support agriculture) group. While the cost may seem daunting upfront (pricing varies by market and CSA and in some cases can be paid on a quarterly basis), its worth it to have produce available to you (and possibly delivered to your home depending on the CSA) virtually year round. More information is available at

  3. Try to get a farmer’s market in your neighborhood. find out whether your city/county/state allows food stamps at farmer’s markets, and if not, contact the appropriate lawmaker

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