Pushing Produce into Urban Food Deserts

There is a new fruit stand on the corner near my home. I think it’s terrific, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t belong there. The cart appeared on the day the New York Times announced a new citywide effort to encourage street vendors to bring fresh vegetables and fruit to low-income neighborhoods that have been called “food deserts” because of the predominance of fast-food outlets offering high-fat, high-sugar fare and the dearth of healthful culinary fare.

I fortunately live in a neighborhood with several grocery stores offering an abundance of fresh, healthy whole foods, all within a few blocks of my home. There are fast-food outlets within walking distance, too, but they are farther away than the healthy food places.

The city, according to reports, has approved 1,000 new mobile food carts for neighborhoods in the five boroughs that have long been isolated from traditional supermarkets, grocery stores and farmers’ markets offering fresh produce at reasonable prices. Research shows that residents of communities well-served by supermarkets are more likely to maintain a healthy weight and avoid the health problems associated with obesity and diabetes. That’s why New York City’s Food Policy Task Force—created in 2006 by the Mayor’s office and the City Council—has focused on making nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lowfat products more readily available in communities around the city. The efforts in NYC include the expansion of the Greenmarket program and the creation of the Healthy Bodegas and Green Cart programs. It also encourages policies designed to attract and retain supermarkets in underserved communities.

I think this is great, and hopefully the cart on my corner will soon get reassigned so that it can join in the fight against one of the nation’s most serious health problems.  For advice on how to get nutritious, affordable food into the underserved neighborhoods in your city, check out the Food Trust.

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