Sunday, December 16, 2007

Surviving on Junk Food in Rural America

Lavender Blue sent me this article from Newsweek:

Junk Food County: Why many rural Americans can't get nutritious foods. The unhealthy truth about country living.

I can't stop thinking about it. It's troubling, on a number of levels.

An excerpt:
"Fannie Charles, 46, lives six miles from the nearest grocery store in rural Orangeburg County, S.C. She doesn't own a car, so she pushes a cart along the side of the highway. (There are no sidewalks.) It's difficult, since she weighs 240 pounds and suffers from asthma and type 2 diabetes. That's why she usually goes only once a month. About once a week she supplements her grocery-store purchases with pricier, less healthy food from the convenience store, just a mile and a half away."

"Ironically, people with low food security are often hungry - and fat. The reason: they binge on cheap, high-calorie foods that fill them up."
The article was based on this study which appeared in the November issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association: Food Store Types, Availability, and Cost of Foods in a Rural Environment, which summarized:
"In this rural environment, stores offering more healthful and lower-cost food selections were outnumbered by convenience stores offering lower availability of more healthful foods. Our findings underscore the challenges of shopping for healthful and inexpensive foods in rural areas."
Something is broken in this country when people who live in our nation's farm-friendliest regions are depending on convenience stores for their food, and are suffering because of it.

The Economist's lead article last week, "The End of Cheap Food" blames food policy, in part, for this shift:
"The trillions of dollars spent supporting farmers in rich countries have led to higher taxes, worse food, intensively farmed monocultures, overproduction and world prices that wreck the lives of poor farmers in the emerging markets. And for what? Despite the help, plenty of Western farmers have been beset by poverty. Increasing productivity means you need fewer farmers, which steadily drives the least efficient off the land. Even a vast subsidy cannot reverse that."
What happened to rural Americans when they were driven off the land? According to the USDA's "Understanding Rural America" they moved into service jobs such as telemarketing and retail, jobs that are low-skill, low-wage and even by USDA's estimation "face increasingly fierce global competition."

Farm Population as a Share of Total US Population

Source: USDA Amber Waves, May 2007

The Economist is right. The recent increase in food prices offers a fantastic opportunity to "wean rich farmers from subsidies and help poor ones. ... The ultimate reward: to make the world richer and fairer."

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