Chicago's Food Deserts

February 20, 2008

CBS 2 Chicago
City's 'Food Deserts' Can Lead To Big Health RisksMany Minority Communities Have No Easy Access To Fresh Food In Chicago
February 20, 2008
Reporting Diann Burns
CHICAGO (CBS) ― Many people in Chicago take for granted that they can run a quick errand and pick up fresh fruits and vegetables in their neighborhood. Half a million people here cannot do that because they live in what's called a "food desert" -- an isolated area with no major grocery stores, but a lot of fast food, on practically every corner.
To buy a single head of lettuce Delores Wedgeworth took two buses on a 45 minute ride each way, with a transfer.
"I think it's important for me to make the effort to go out of the neighborhood 'caise if I eat just fast food all week, I can tell, I'm sluggish, not, as they say, on the edge..." Wedgeworth said.
She is a working senior -- a teacher at a preschool.
"I jump, I climb. I'm not a spring chicken, but I have a lot of energy. I gotta fuel my body," she said.
CBS 2's Dianne Burns reports most of Chicago's food deserts are on the South and West sides, and almost all of them are predominantly African American.
A liquor store is at every turn in those food desserts, as well as a blinding array of fast food. Many people buy meals there, and at the gas station.
"If you live in these communities you're more likely to suffer from hypertension, diabetes, certain kinds of cancers, so it's very serious," said Mari Gallagher of MG Research and Consulting.
MG Research looked at all 18,000 blocks in the city. The study found that fresh fruits and vegetables are very difficult to find in food deserts because the major grocery stores fled the inner city.
"I'm embarrassed, outraged," said Congressman Bobby Rush. "You can buy French fries, but you can't buy fresh potatoes. You can get ketchup, but no tomatoes. Something is wrong with that."
Rep. Rush saw the trend firsthand in his First District, and pushed for lawmakers in Washington to acknowledge the food desert with a designation in the 2008 farm bill to help Chicago pay for solutions.
"It's not gonna happen overnight," said Ald. Margaret Laurino. "It's a real slow process. I feel we've brought enough people to the table that are committed to this project."
Ald. Laurino's city council committee every year puts together the grocery expo -- a report that offers a list of attractive properties for locations in the city where a grocery store could open, with perhaps a chance for success.
The city hopes to lure independent, medium-sized stores to the grocery deserts. With childhood obesity reaching the epidemic stage, time is critical. And studies show that healthy eating promotes better learning.
"It's shameful, it's again a death sentence to generations of people and it shouldn't be that way and it's got to stop," Rep. Rush said.
The Chicago City Council is also reaching out to a Pennsylvania group that helped tackle the food desert problem in Philadelphia. They will be conducting more research on what can be done here in Chicago.
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