How to Talk About the Existence of Food Deserts

Before diving into specific tactics there is a quote that is important to pull out from Black Girl Dangerous by Mia Mckenzie. When talking about resistance as a queer woman of color, she states that “we all knew that loving each other as hard as we could was how we survived in a world that wanted to kill us, and that made our love an act of defiance” (Mckenzie 61). While this specific quote is not directly discussing the topic of food deserts, I do believe that it can be defined to discussions of food justice. Fighting for healthy and accessible food is an act of radical self love, which is in turn an act of defiance against the racist and classist systems of oppression that are neglecting people. For activists who are fighting against food deserts, this can be a very emotional and personal topic to talk about. An online resource that can be used as a release from this anger and hurt is the PeaceMeal Project. This is a collaborative writing outlet where folks can submit poetry and other writing samples about food and justice. Whether the relief comes from writing and submitting or simply reading and finding solidarity in other activists struggles around this topic, this could be a beneficial resource.

Now on to the logistics of talking about food deserts and how to advocate for their erasure. A useful way to collect data on the destruction that food deserts bring to communities is through participatory action research (PAR).  In Activist Scholarship: Antiracism, Feminism, and Social Change, it says that “by placing action at the center, PAR turns research into activist praxis, so that the outcomes of the research include community mobilizing, policy change, and grassroots acts of resistance.” (Sudbury & Okaza-Rey 31). A useful tool to begin this activist research is by using this interactive map created United States Department of Agriculture, meant to display where all of the food deserts exist within the country. By defining where exactly the food deserts are within Minneapolis, data about access to food, quality of food, and impact on people within the community can begin to be collected. This map also allows for people to display how there are discrepancies with access to fresh food within the same city.

Julio Cammarota and Michelle Fine discuss in Revolutionizing Education that within community organizing and research, the people are “involved in all stages of the research process: problem identification, data collection, data analysis, and the development of research presentations” (Cammarota & Fine 98). Therefore, a useful tool to advocate for access to grocery stores with better quality food could be The Economic Impacts of Fresh Food Retailers created by PolicyLink. This table outlines the ways in which specific communities, as well as the entirety of the cities, benefit from having access to fresh food retailers.

Indirect Economic Impacts:

  • Revitalized neighborhood housing markets
  • Asset-building for low-income homeowners (via appreciating real estate assets)
  • Workforce training and development
  • New businesses surrounding the store
  • Additional spending in the local economy generated by the store and the new jobs it creates (the “multiplier effect”)

Direct Economic Impacts:     

  • Job opportunities
  • Local tax revenues

This list provides an example for an avenue by which activists doing local, collective organizing can center themselves within this struggle and advocate for the resources that their community needs to survive.  This is a way to demonstrate how abolishing food deserts can not only benefit the community at hand, but also the entirety of the city.

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