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The Wall Street Journal reports on a new study out of the University of Washington Center for Public Health Nutrition saying that the notion of food deserts - areas with a dearth of food shopping choices - is a lot more complicated than just geography.

“Having a grocery store nearby doesn’t guarantee purchases of fresh produce or other more healthful foods, the report found - those decisions are often driven by economics.” The writes that “the report found, not surprisingly, that richer, skinnier, more-educated people patronized Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and a local co-op. Their demographic opposites were more likely to shop at Albertsons and Fred Meyer. Most people shopped outside their immediate area, likely on the basis of price (for poorer people) or the perception of higher quality (for wealthier people).

“Moreover, the relative prices within the store also likely dictate diet. Fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and other unprocessed foods are often more expensive than processed, less nutritious foods. That suggests a focus on making more healthful foods more affordable, not simply opening grocery stores in underserved areas.”
KC's View:
I know someone who recently decided, for a variety of reasons, to shift to a vegetarian lifestyle. Over a period of time, his entire family of four has moved to a diet that is pretty much completely plant-based...with an emphasis on organic and local products. (I think I’m getting this right.) One thing I do remember is that he told me that his food expenses went up by 30 percent as a result of this shift...

Now, he’s lucky. He can afford it. But not everybody can. (And I recognize that he may have been making shopping choices that pushed the number up...that one can probably become a vegetarian without going broke.)

When he told me this, I remember thinking that movements like those focused on local foods and organic products will only really become mainstream when they become economically within the reach of a broader community.

Which is a long way of saying that it doesn’t surprise me that food deserts have as much to do with demography as geography.