The Tasty Bits Blog

Sep 14, 2013

Food Deserts Coming to Canada?

Food and Health  ·  

A recent article in the Toronto Star noted that Canada’s largest city has started to resemble what was a largely an American urban issue, the emergence of Canadian “food deserts”.

So what is a food desert? Food deserts refer to the inability to access healthy or nutritious foods inside a geographical area. In North American terms, these deserts are usually located in the inner cities or urbanized areas, with populations that tend to be poorer, less educated and with lower degree of health.

What does it mean? It means that rather than having access to a “real” food items that are necessary to create a balanced diet, large populations are forced to shop for food at convenience stores whose product range consists of salty, sugar laden snack goods that are not meant for living on for an extended timeframe.

Want to see how easy it is? Imagine trying to get a load of groceries home, bags full of meat, potatoes and frozen veggies, even 2KM from your home, much less 10KM, without a car, in an area poorly served by buses? Do you have an extra $30 for cab fare? Anyone feeling up for long and dangerous walk with your hands full and maybe a child to watch too? What if you are on a fixed income or managing diminished mobility, in a wheelchair or have three kids under five and no homecare?

The reason there are few urban grocery stores is pure economics. Grocery stores need space to be viable and downtown real estate is very expensive to pay for on the 3-5% margins common in the modern grocery marketplace. Combine that with the high costs of delivery, staff turnover, higher insurance, increased risk of crime (higher shrinkage rates), and you can see why there has been a decade’s long flight to the safe, middle class suburbs.

Food deserts aren’t new, and they’re not going to be resolved in the short term, but hopefully a combination of good public policy, the trend of inner city gentrification and re-population, some active corporate support and maybe a bit of good luck, the trend can be slowed or even reversed. With our North American population getting older, heavier and potentially sicker, we need to do something more than just hope.

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