Thursday, 4 April 2013

The wrong diet - supply or demand?

The bien pensant foodies sorts like to believe there's a thing called a 'food desert' wherein poor folk reside. And in these deserts there is no healthy food - no greens, no beans, no fruit. Just stodge and junk.

For the campaigners this is all down to the evils of the market - that fresh stuff can't be afforded by those poor folk so they pile in the pie and pile on the calories. Or maybe it's not:

...people writing about food deserts make a mistake when they assume that food deserts are all about inadequate supply, instead of inadequate demand.  I suggested that food deserts might exist because people who don’t want to eat healthy will live in neighbourhoods without healthy food, not because they choose not to move elsewhere, but because companies that sell healthy food — and this goes for all types of food stores, not just supermarkets — will not make money there.

Ah, you say, this is just some bloke holding forth, where's the evidence?

The evidence goes like this:

...there is really no relationship, according to this one recent study of nearly 100,000 Californians, between the distance between your body and a full-service supermarket (or any other kind of food store), and whether or not you are obese.  Distance, which is a proxy for access (the idea of a food desert is that the nearest supermarket, which has fresh produce, is distant), is for all practical purposes a non-factor.

Yet we have whole legions of well-meaning folk running healthy food projects in poor neighbourhoods - funded mostly by our taxes. And the people who live there would rather eat pizza and chips!



Beermat Scribbler said...

The problem is partly cultural - if folk can't see past what they always do, and aren't shown an alternative that isn't as as hard as they assume it is, there is no reason to change their habits. This is why well meaning outsiders usually founder - without being able to get through that barrier they are expensively peeing in the wind.

Surreptitious Evil said...

Hmmm. Shops stock what they can sell.

I have a small Sainsbury store a few hundred metres from my house. We live on the main road of an old mining town, which is slowly regenerating from really being quite impoverished. I get most of my shopping from there - but they aren't big enough to carry everything (e.g. senior balance cat food.)

However, the bias between the food they carry and that in the larger Sainsbury in the nearby market town is quite significant. There's plenty of stuff I like (taramasalta and TtD lemonade) that simply isn't available. But there is also a huge difference in the quality of fresh food versus frozen. The local store has about double the proportion of freezer space as the larger one.

It is also quite interesting, although anecdata, to note that we have had quite a large building programme recently - about 20% I suppose of the town population. This has had an effect - sweet potatoes, for example, are now a nearly permanent feature in the local store.

Just some things to think about ...