Much has been written in this space about the problem of food deserts in today’s health landscape. To review, a food desert is any part of the industrialized world where fresh fruits and vegetables are difficult to obtain. The reasons for the existence of food deserts may be logistical constraints, economic barriers or lack of nutrition literacy.
However, there is evidence that these factors alone do not tell the entire story. Many cities are investigating the role that urban farming can play in alleviating these burdens, but purely locational markers can be misleading. As Emily Badger wrote in a piece last month in The Atlantic Cities:
“By using a static map that looks at the distribution of homes and food stores, you get a rough cut,” says Michael Widener, an assistant professor of geography at the University of Cincinnati. “You get a general idea of what spaces have worse access than other spaces. But ultimately, these are just models.” And they’re models that completely miss the picture of human mobility … if we could more realistically capture where people shop and how they move through their day, that could help us better identify who’s really at risk and what would help them.
In many ways, food deserts are about creating incentives for two entities. One is the consumer, who must make a decision to pursue a consciously healthy lifestyle through better eating habits. The other is local grocery shops and corner bodegas, who may remain unconvinced that stocking their inventories with healthier choices will ensure commercial survival.
In an effort to move the needle on a topic of growing national concern (check out an NPR piece that came out this week), Anikto announced this week the launch of a nutritional support program called Aisle Won. The first release is being piloted in Baltimore in coordination with the Mayor’s Civic Works office, with additional sites currently under negotiation. The goal is to retain commitments in at least four cities by the end of 2013.
The purpose of Aisle Won is to improve education and access by economically empowering community-supported agriculture groups, extending their reach into markets where residents do the bulk of their shopping. In addition, Aisle Won helps families better manage their budgets and menu planning through simple recipes and bundled price packages. The program also helps consumers make better sense of their purchases, so they have some idea of what to do with that eggplant they just bought.
Rollout is still very early, so quite a bit of tweaking is expected before the program can operate nationally. But it’s at least one way that we can help a few communities overcome a problem that threatens the wellness infrastructure of our nation’s ecosystem.