Eating Healthy in a Food Desert in Atlanta

23 million Americans live in “food deserts” or “food swamps”. That is about 1 in 14 Americans. A “food desert” is an area where there is no or very little access to truly healthy food. Typically if there is no grocery store within a mile in an urban area it is considered a food desert. There is however an abundance of junk food at corner stores and fast food restaurants. Because there isn’t actually a lack of food but rather an abundance of unhealthy, highly processed, low-nutrient food in these communities the term food desert is much less accurate than food swamp. These areas are a swamp of unhealthy food.

Whether you call it a food desert, a food swamp, or something else the bottom line is that it’s really darn hard to eat healthy if you live there. Accessibility is just one of the barriers to eating healthy. Cost is another. Food deserts are often in areas where people have low incomes which means they can have a hard time affording food, healthy or not. The barriers don’t stop there. Food corporations, lobbyists, and advertising misguide Americans who are trying to eat healthy while putting profit over their customers’ health. Prior health problems such as diabetes and obesity make it hard to overcome the pattern of eating unhealthy. Lastly, there are a plethora of social barriers for many people living in these areas to overcome if they want to start eating healthy. These are a few of the major barriers that prevent people in food deserts/ swamps from eating healthy, even if they have every desire or intention to overcome all the barriers.

I believe that every American citizen not only deserves, but CAN eat a healthy, nutritious, and delicious diet. I believe that millions of people living in these areas can overcome the barriers and eat healthy. This is a belief that I want to put to the test. So for one month I will be staying in the food desert of Bankhead in Atlanta where I have been invited by a host and Change to Humanity, a nonprofit that works in the community. My food budget for the month will be the amount of money someone gets from SNAP, known to many as food stamps. This will be about $240 between my partner Cheryl and I. That’s about $4 per day each. (Note: The exact amount will be decided upon more research. The amount received varies depending on the source. Also, there are other forms of assistance that people receive from food stamps. I am aware that SNAP is supplemental and is not designed to cover 100% of people’s food budget. Because of this the exact number and this project could be controversial in the minds of some. Nowhere in the country is this issue exactly the same and nowhere is it a simple black and white issue. But regardless of all that, this project is designed to help and educate people who want it and regardless of exact figures it will do just that. The point is simple, to help people eat healthy when cost and accessibility is an issue whether they receive government assistance or not.

Of course, my experience in Bankhead will be much different than someone who’s been living there for years or decades. My experience is not designed to replicate the life of someone living in a food desert. Rather, my time there will be used to create tools to help people overcome the issues of food accessibility, cost, social stigmas, and misguidance from companies. I am not out to tell anyone what to do either. Rather I have learned that millions of Americans want to take back their health and eat healthy and my work will simply serve as a guide for those who wish to use it. Of course, I will not be suffering from the challenges that many people in these neighborhoods deal with such as the stress of working two jobs, supporting children, or unhealthy relationships. That’s why I am immersing myself in the community so that I can learn from the success and failures of people living there and share their stories. I will be interviewing and sharing stories of individuals and organizations that are overcoming the barriers of living in a food desert. This will include urban gardeners, food rescue programs, moms, and more.

The tools I create will include a 30 day meal plan, shopping lists, recipes, and how-to guides to help Americans around the country who live in food deserts or deal with food insecurity. They’ll even be helpful for people who are just trying to save money while eating healthy such as college students. I will also be creating comparison charts of shopping at different stores in different economic communities around the country. This will include big box marts in both urban and rural areas, health food stores, and farmers markets. Many people are intimidated by cooking and this keeps them out of the kitchen. To help with this I will be showing just how simple and easy it can be to cook healthy and delicious food. I will show that a stove, pot, pan, knife, cutting board, blender, and a few standard utensils and dishes are all that are needed. I’ll create a resource guide of simple, healthy recipes, how-to videos and blogs, and meal plans. There is a common illusion that many foods such as bread, peanut butter, ice cream, nut milks, and hummus, are difficult to make and need to be made by companies. I’ll show how to easily make all of these things at home plus teach how to ferment and preserve foods including sauerkraut, ginger beer, sourdough bread, pickles, and fruit scrap vinegar.

Ron Finley says, “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.” I couldn’t agree more and we believe growing food is far more accessible and easy than many people think. From the walls of urban apartment buildings to front yards to abandoned lots to windowsills to city boulevards, I’ll be demonstrating just how fun and easy it can be to grow your own food and herbs. I’ll give how-to’s on making raised bed gardens and herb gardens made mostly out of stuff you can find for free that is going to waste. And I’ll also be making simple compost bins and rainwater harvesting units to accompany the gardens. I also plan to do a guerrilla gardening event with Ron Finley to transform unused space into a bountiful garden.

The month will end with a big event August 6th at Mozley Park hosted by Change to Humanity. Here people from around Atlanta will join to show their solutions to bringing healthy food to all people in the USA! This month in Atlanta is a part of my summer long FOOD for ALL! Tour which is bringing me to Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia. Check out the FOOD for ALL! page to see if I’m coming to your city and get involved!

West Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York

My work will be done within Atlanta for the month but I will be blogging here and creating videos on my YouTube Channel so that anyone can learn and adopt these positive changes into their lives. So subscribe to my YouTube Channel, sign up for my newsletter, and follow along on facebook.