'Food desert' fallacy shocks liberals

Thomas Lifson
It turns out that you can bring produce sections to poor neighborhoods, but you can't get poor people to eat healthier food. This comes as a shock to liberals who believe in the comprehensive theory of victimology -- that all problems afflicting people who fall into ethnic, sexual, or other identities regarded as victims are due to external factors, not to their own choices.

Patti Neighmond writes for NPR:

In inner cities and poor rural areas across the country, public health advocates have been working hard to turn around food deserts - neighborhoods where fresh produce is scarce, and greasy fast food abounds. In many cases, they're converting dingy, cramped corner markets into lighter, brighter venues that offer fresh fruits and vegetables. In some cases, they're building brand new stores.

"The presumption is, if you build a store, people are going to come," says Stephen Matthews, professor in the departments of sociology, anthropology and demography at Penn State University. To check that notion, he and colleagues from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine recently surveyed residents of one low-income community in Philadelphia before and after the opening of a glistening new supermarket brimming with fresh produce.

What they're finding, Matthews says, is a bit surprising: "We don't find any difference at all. ... We see no effect of the store on fruit and vegetable consumption."

The deranged premise behind the entire "food desert" theory was that crass corporations were bypassing the opportunity to sell healthy foods to poor people out of malice, or at best ignorance. The idea that local people weren't interested in buying healthy food, and that led to low demand, and hence low supply, was unworthy of consideration. These people did not understand that demand creates supply in a free economy because they don't understand a free economy from the standpoint of a business operator.

There is also an underlying unwillingness to consider that some groups have values that are less functional than other groups. Let me be clear: values are changeable, and mass values do change over time. But the consciousness that healthy foods are important to good overall health is still mainly a preoccupation of the upper middle classes in the United States. Sometimes it is necessary to recognize that a change in values among groups designated as victims is the best thing one can do to help them. And, that realization is now dawning on the food desert crowd:

"The next part of the intervention is to create demand," he says, "so the community wants to come to the store and buy healthy fruits and vegetables and go home and prepare those foods in a healthy way, without lots of fat, salt or sugar."

Ortega directs a UCLA project that converts corner stores into hubs of healthy fare in low-income neighborhoods of East Los Angeles. He and colleagues work with community leaders and local high school students to help create that demand for nutritious food. Posters and signs promoting fresh fruits and vegetables hang in corner stores....

At least the message has made it to UCLA. It's a start.

It turns out that you can bring produce sections to poor neighborhoods, but you can't get poor people to eat healthier food. This comes as a shock to liberals who believe in the comprehensive theory of victimology -- that all problems afflicting people who fall into ethnic, sexual, or other identities regarded as victims are due to external factors, not to their own choices.

Patti Neighmond writes for NPR:

In inner cities and poor rural areas across the country, public health advocates have been working hard to turn around food deserts - neighborhoods where fresh produce is scarce, and greasy fast food abounds. In many cases, they're converting dingy, cramped corner markets into lighter, brighter venues that offer fresh fruits and vegetables. In some cases, they're building brand new stores.

"The presumption is, if you build a store, people are going to come," says Stephen Matthews, professor in the departments of sociology, anthropology and demography at Penn State University. To check that notion, he and colleagues from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine recently surveyed residents of one low-income community in Philadelphia before and after the opening of a glistening new supermarket brimming with fresh produce.

What they're finding, Matthews says, is a bit surprising: "We don't find any difference at all. ... We see no effect of the store on fruit and vegetable consumption."

The deranged premise behind the entire "food desert" theory was that crass corporations were bypassing the opportunity to sell healthy foods to poor people out of malice, or at best ignorance. The idea that local people weren't interested in buying healthy food, and that led to low demand, and hence low supply, was unworthy of consideration. These people did not understand that demand creates supply in a free economy because they don't understand a free economy from the standpoint of a business operator.

There is also an underlying unwillingness to consider that some groups have values that are less functional than other groups. Let me be clear: values are changeable, and mass values do change over time. But the consciousness that healthy foods are important to good overall health is still mainly a preoccupation of the upper middle classes in the United States. Sometimes it is necessary to recognize that a change in values among groups designated as victims is the best thing one can do to help them. And, that realization is now dawning on the food desert crowd:

"The next part of the intervention is to create demand," he says, "so the community wants to come to the store and buy healthy fruits and vegetables and go home and prepare those foods in a healthy way, without lots of fat, salt or sugar."

Ortega directs a UCLA project that converts corner stores into hubs of healthy fare in low-income neighborhoods of East Los Angeles. He and colleagues work with community leaders and local high school students to help create that demand for nutritious food. Posters and signs promoting fresh fruits and vegetables hang in corner stores....

At least the message has made it to UCLA. It's a start.