Baltimore Food Czar: Food Desert Studies Don't Apply
Holly Freishtat, Baltimore "food czar," believes studies of food deserts can't be applied to the city.
Two recent studies have called into question some accepted tenets of the country's battle against the bulge in some urban areas.
Health advocates have argued obesity is a problem in many lower income urban areas because of so called "food deserts," large areas in cities where residents do not have access to healthy foods.
But the recent studies, as reported in the New York Times, question whether or not low-income urban areas are in fact "food deserts," and whether there is a relationship between obesity and the type of food available in a neighborhood.
The studies found that low-income areas may have more fast food restaurants and convenience stores, but also have more access to grocery stores, supermarkets and full service restaurants, according to the article.
But Holly Freishtat, Baltimore’s “food czar,” said those studies don’t totally apply to Baltimore. One of the biggest differences is how a food desert is defined in those studies, such as a supermarket being within a few miles an urban area. She also pointed out that one of the studies focused on California.
"A few miles away in Baltimore City and you’re almost out of the city," Freishtat said.
According to the Baltimore Food Policy Initiative, 20 percent of Baltimore’s population lives in a food desert, which is defined as an area more than a quarter mile from a grocery store, where the median income is 185 percent below the Federal Poverty Level, or where 40 percent of households do not have a vehicle.
"The story we’re telling is very different from the story they’re telling," Freishtat said.
But Freishtat did agree with certain assertions in the article, such as addressing food deserts involves more than just adding grocery stores. She said the city is pursuing a comprehensive plan that involves giving access to famers' markets to residents using Independence cards, working with carryout and public markets to provide healthier options and providing a virtual supermarket.
“The model here is to really eliminate food deserts,” she said.
What do you think of Baltimore's efforts to eliminate food deserts? Tell us in comments.