NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – There are a number of food deserts across the state of Tennessee affecting the way people live and how they eat, according to Second Harvest of Middle Tennessee.
A food desert is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a low-income area where at least one-third of residents live more than one mile from a grocery store. In rural areas, the distance is 10 miles.
Kyieta Martin has two young sons and lives near the J.C. Napier public housing development. She bought a car this year but says when didn’t have her own transportation, getting food for her family was a daily struggle.
“If you have a car you can go to the grocery store, grab everything and pile it in your car and go home,” Martin said. “When I didn’t have a car and I was using the bus, I was constantly back and forth from the store.”
Food deserts are often vacant of fruits, vegetables and other whole foods. Instead, mom-and-pop shops will offer items high in fat, sugar and sodium. So people like Martin have to travel to shop.
“The likelihood of you eating good, nutritious food if it’s not available on a consistent basis or if prices are much higher than what you can afford, then you’re probably going to eat the items that are going to fill your stomach up,” said Jaynee Day, President of Second Harvest of Middle Tennessee.
Not only does Martin have to travel to shop she says she often can’t afford the prices. She’s had to make the decision several times in the past whether to buy food or pay rent.
“It comes to a point that if I don’t pay my rent will I get put out?” said Martin. “You always want somewhere for your kids to stay. If not me, at least my kids.”
Day says a food desert is created when a grocery store doesn’t want to open in a low-income area.
“Opening a grocery store is a huge investment,” said Day. “To make that kind of an investment in an area that may not produce the kind of revenue they need to support the store then they’re probably not going to make that investment.”
Many people in low-income areas, including in rural areas, may not have their own car; senior citizens may not be able to drive.
Shoppers must then rely on public transportation.
Mom of two, Tequila Lee-Fuller, said sometimes she can’t even afford the bus.
“I’ll walk no matter what time of year it is because my kids have to eat,” said Lee-Fuller. “I can go without eating but my kids have to eat. It’s part of their nourishment, development and reaching their potential with their brain. They need good food.”
Second Harvest, which provides food to hungry families in 46 counties, says it is trying to bridge that gap as much as possible.
“We’re very concerned so we as an organization are moving more fresh fruits and vegetables through a variety of programs that we serve to seniors, children or families,” said Day.
Day believes that food deserts can be eliminated when people are paid a livable wage and have access to affordable health care and affordable housing.