Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

Let Them Eat Kale: The Misplaced Narrative of Food Access

Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

Let Them Eat Kale: The Misplaced Narrative of Food Access

Article excerpt

Introduction                                                   1092   I.  The Food Access Narrative                                1093       A. Third Way Politics and Food Access                    1094       B. The Emergence of Food Access in the United States     1097       C. Municipal Politics and Food Access                    1099       D. Food Access and the "Obesity Epidemic"                1100  II.  Food Access Policies                                     1101       A. The Retail Initiative                                 1102       B. State and Local Fresh Food Financing Initiatives      1102       C. Federal Healthy Food Financing Initiative             1103       D. Advocacy, Philanthropic, and Research Support         1103 III.  Limitations of Retail Food Access Policies               1106  IV.  The Persistence of Retail Food Access Policies           1108       A. Self-Promotion by Food Retailers                      1109       B. Political Appeal of Supermarket Development           1112       C. Analytical Weaknesses                                 1113   V.  Upstream Alternatives                                    1116       A. Increasing the Minimum Wage                           1117       B. Strengthening Labor Protections                       1118       C. Expanding the Welfare State                           1118       D. Protecting and Expanding SNAP                         1119       E. Protecting and Expanding Universal Free School Lunch  1119 Conclusion                                                     1120 


In recent years, policymakers, nongovernmental organizations, and activists have supported policies to eliminate disparities in access to healthy food and, by doing so, reduce diet-related chronic diseases. These efforts have involved a wide range of interventions, from the creation of new farmers' markets to programs encouraging convenience stores to sell fresh produce. One of the most prominent food access interventions uses incentives to lure supermarkets to so-called "food deserts," communities deemed to have insufficient full-service food retail. (1) Federal, state, and municipal governments have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize supermarket development through such programs. (2) However, research has shown that merely expanding access to food retail has no appreciable effect on shopping patterns, food choices, health, obesity, or diet-related diseases. (3) Support for these interventions has nonetheless continued to grow--obscuring underlying issues and detracting from more effective strategies.

This Article examines the emergence of food access as a policy issue, current approaches to increasing food access, and possible alternatives. Part I discusses the development of the current food access narrative, focusing on its appeal to policymakers, urban planners, and public health officials. Part II describes policies to increase access to food retail. Part III reviews research on the relationship between food retail and health outcomes. Part IV examines why increasing food access persists as a policy goal despite its demonstrated failure to reduce health inequities. Finally, Part V proposes alternative strategies for reducing economic and health disparities within food systems.


The concept of food access was originally applied to dynamics within developing countries with severely malnourished populations. (4) It was meant to reorient anti-hunger efforts away from a simplistic focus on food availability--the physical supply of food--toward one that also considered the ability of people to secure, or access, that food. (5) By the late 1970s, recognizing that the Green Revolution failed to end famines and malnourishment despite increasing agricultural yields, (6) food security scholars and practitioners increasingly emphasized the need to match food availability with food access. …

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