Friday, June 22, 2012


"They're gonna feel awfully dumb lying in a hospital bed dying of nothing!"
-Red Foxx on why he doesn't take care of his health

What is a "food desert?" Its a term designed to give greater government control and stir up a crisis which does not exist. Activists came up with this term to describe an area which does not have stores or sources to obtain fresh food within easy walking distance. Its not really a desert, there are restaurants, they just serve bad food, such as McDonald's.

Why on earth would they come up with such a ruling? Well there are a variety of reasons but it all boils down to helping other projects and ideas. To make this a bit more clear, Ethan Epstien writes in City Journal about one such desert and the government response right in my back door:
...thanks to a program called the Healthy Retail Initiative—administered by Multnomah County, home of Portland, and funded by federal money from the Centers for Disease Control—another store in the neighborhood, El Compadre Market, has received taxpayer money to “increase community access to healthy, affordable food.” El Compadre, which doubles as a restaurant selling greasy burritos and hamburgers, has received $4,500 in public money to buy grains and install a walk-in freezer. So far, Multnomah County has doled out grants of up to $4,500 each to at least 22 Portland stores, all in the name of providing “access” to fresh food.

In justifying the program, the county says that “many communities in Multnomah County do not have easy access to full-service grocery stores and instead rely on small neighborhood stores for many of their daily food needs.”
Here's the problem. There are several stores selling fresh food within walking distance of all these stores.
A 54,000-square-foot Safeway supermarket dominates the area, selling fresh produce, meat, and frozen goods. Just a few blocks away stands a 13,500-square-foot Grocery Outlet, retailing food, fresh and otherwise, at steep discounts. And for residents of the Bobo persuasion, a small neighborhood store, Proper Eats, specializes in organic and vegan groceries.

Many recipients, like El Compadre, stand in close proximity to grocery stores. El Tepeyac, for example, is 0.3 miles from a Fred Meyer grocery store (the local Kroger affiliate); another, Alberta Market, is just 0.8 miles from a Safeway.
So what on earth is going on? Well, if you want to help "minority businesses" out, crush out fast food, and control the businesses in an area, you have to create a crisis. And that crisis is the "poor people are fat" health crisis, in this case.

See, its difficult to complain that poor people are doing so terribly and require more of your tax dollars if they are fat. Usually poor people in a nation are the most malnourished and skinny. In America they're characterized as being fat and well fed, which doesn't lend its self well to "give me more of your money." So a way of getting you to pay anyway had to be created.

The definition of a "food desert" is contingent upon the income level of people. USDA guidelines state that someone living more than a mile from a shop selling fresh food and below the mean income of the community is in a food desert. Portland's guidelines are the same, but the distance is reduced to a half mile. This is interesting since 94% of Portland's residents own a car - far higher than most big cities - and can easily make a trip of a mile to shop. And the mean income level of Portland is over $50,000 a year.

Further these zones are determined by areas on a map, and the distance to a fresh food market is measured from the center of these zones. So if you live on the edge of one, you can hit a store with a thrown rock and still be defined as being within a "food desert."

So on come the grants, loans, and tax incentives to set up stores. And since this is an easy way to throw a political ally some cash for helping you get elected, corruption is far too easy to establish since who gets to put a store in an area is decided by a special board.

And there's no small element of behavior modification being attempted here.
Consider some of the strings attached to the grants, such as the requirement that healthy food at subsidized stores must be available at the checkout counter or in a “highly visible area marked with ‘healthy options here’ signs.” This sounds like an attempt at “nudging,” the behavioral-economics approach popularized by former Obama administration official Cass Sunstein, which holds that people can be steered toward making “better” decisions without their conscious awareness. Put a nice shiny apple on the counter, and the customer may think twice about going for the bag of chips.
The assumption is clear: poor people eat badly because they're stupid and lazy so we have to reeducate them to eat well. Never mind that a bag of chips stores for 8 years and an apple goes bad in a matter of weeks. Never mind that you get paid once a month and have to make food last if you're poor, so you cannot buy arugala and artisan bread.

I'll buy that there's a lot of bad decision making by poor people - and rich, and middle class - in America as elsewhere. And that's one of the costs of liberty. Freedom means being free to make bad decisions and do stupid stuff. Taking away freedom to impose what you think is wise is tyranny even if you mean well by that tyranny. And using other peoples' money to do this is even worse. Food deserts are just one more way for the government to control your life, your neighborhood, and now even your kitchen.

When will people finally say "enough?"

1 comment:

Eric said...

A few months ago I was working with a local group trying to get a farmer's market established in our town. One of the ladies in the group kept saying (over and over and over) that we are in a food desert. I never understood what she meant. If she would have just said, "This town has a shitty selection of resaraunts." then I would have known and agreed! Thank you for the illumination.

PS The farmers market never got off the ground, we couldn't find what we thought was an adquate number of vendors.

I was sort of bummed out by this until about two hours ago when an old farmer walked into my business and sold me 2 pounds of fresh okra, 2 ponds of fresh onions, and 2 pounds of fresh bell peppers for $5. I sort of like the "cheaper and delivered to your door" method better than the overpriced farmers market I would have to drive to!