What is food security and why would it matter to a doctor, or to you? What are food deserts? Why is it so important to know where your food comes from?
Simply put, food security is the abundance and availability of food, and how readily an individual or community can access it. The access to healthy, nutritious food should NOT depend on gender, race or ethnic background, socio-economic status or geographic location. Food security, or the lack thereof, is something that many of us in the United States may not fully understand, or believe it to be an issue facing the international community rather than something here at home. However, for many Americans, and for many Alabamians, the social, economic, geographic and physical access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food is not part of their everyday reality.
Some threats to food security include lack of financial means, lack of a vehicle or other transportation to get to the store, health concerns, location and supply chain issues, lack of education or information about healthy options, and more.
As a doctor, the lack of food security especially concerns me. It is nearly impossible to pursue your best, healthiest life if something so basic as sufficient and safe access to food is not available. If you’ve struggled with food security for any reason, you know how distressing it can be to not be able to get adequate nutrition for yourself or your family. According to research carried out by the United Health Foundation, in 2019-2020, 13.9% of Alabama families were considered food insecure because they could not provide enough safe food for one or more members of their household.
The concept of food insecurity often goes hand in hand with food deserts. According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, a food desert is a census tract (typically in an urban area, but this can apply to rural locations as well) where a significant number of the residents cannot easily access a supermarket, grocery store, or reliable place to purchase food.
It might be surprising to find out that, despite the high number of farms across the state, there are significant portions of Alabama that qualify as food deserts. Food deserts pose a special challenge in our state, especially in rural areas, because in many parts of Alabama, grocery stores are ten miles or more away, which can make reliable access to food nearly impossible for those who don’t have dependable transportation or the ability to drive. This is one of the reasons that we at Agroshare so strongly encourage the pursuit of self-sufficiency and the purchase of local food. You may live far away from a grocery store, but there may be a farm stand or market within walking distance, or a grower with a CSA who delivers. It is our goal to make it easier to find these resources, because healthy food should be in the hands of EVERYONE, every single day.
Maps of deserts across the state:
The following are maps of food deserts in our state. You can check to see if your area qualifies as a food desert. Then, head over to our Food Finder Map and directory to find alternatives!
An incredible tool is the USDA ERS’ Food Research Atlas Map. You can find it here: https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-access-research-atlas/go-to-the-atlas/
If you are headed down the road to self-sufficiency, or simply want to trim down your gardening budget, seed-saving is an invaluable skill to have.