Friday, May 22, 2009

Neither Desserts nor Deserts

Late last year, the New Mexico Food Gap Task Force presented its report, Closing New Mexico’s Food Gap, to Governor Bill Richardson, Lt. Governor Diane Denish and the State Legislature. The Task Force was convened as a result of the passage of House Joint Memorial 10 in 2007 which called on the Governor to appoint a task force to study challenges to food access in the state and to provide recommendations to increase the ability of all New Mexicans to access healthy, affordable and culturally significant foods.

The Task Force was comprised of representatives of the Departments of Health, Human Services, Agriculture, Transportation, Aging and Long-Term Services, and Indian Affairs as well as representatives from the New Mexico Food and Agriculture Policy Council, the Mid-Region Council of Governments and New Mexico Legal Aid. The Task Force met monthly from July through November to study the issue and develop the report.

Here's the first paragraph of the executive summary

Grocery stores and the food system of which they are a part are a critical cornerstone to the health and wealth of New Mexico’s communities, both urban and rural. Unfortunately, many New Mexicans do not have easy access to adequate, affordable, and healthy foods.

Fully one third of New Mexico’s counties are designated as having low food access and New Mexico is the second most food insecure state in the nation. The causes and adverse impacts of this “food gap” are varied and grave, but the opportunities to begin to close the food gap are also numerous and have great potential to contribute to the well-being of all New Mexicans.
Read Full Executive Summary
Read Full Report

Santa Fe anti-hunger advocate Mark Winne wrote an article on this topic for the winter edition of Edible Santa Fe magazine. In the article, entitled Food Deserts and the Rural Food Gap, Mark tells us what he discovered at a small rural supermarket in Logan, New Mexico, which is in Quay County. For many residents of Logan, this supermarket was the only option available within 25 miles.

Though no Whole Foods, it is sufficiently stocked to prevent a hungry man from starving. Canned and packaged goods are neatly stacked, cleaning supplies abound and a frozen food case offers a reasonable selection of TV dinners and even Lean Cuisine.

But a walk down the dimly lit
aisles will disappoint most fresh food shoppers. One ten-foot cooler carries a tired collection of apples, bananas, iceberg lettuce, pre-cut carrots and rubbery tomatoes. The only meat is packaged or frozen. And the cheeses come in two types: pale yellow and bright orange.
Pointing to various studies, Mark argues that there is a connection between obesity and the lack of access to nutritious food.

A growing body of evidence suggests, those with fewer food choices tend to eat less healthfully. According to New Mexico Department of Health statistics, Quay is the heaviest county in the state. Fully 71.5 percent of the county’s 10,155 residents are overweight or obese compared to the already high 59.7 percent rate for the state as a whole.

Even more tragically, 37 percent of Quay’s children between the ages of two and five who are enrolled in the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program are also overweight or obese, which ties Quay with Hidalgo County for the rate in the state (the statewide average is 27 percent).
There are many other interesting statistics, anecdotes and examples in this piece. I recommend that you read the full article.

By the way, Mark is also author of an entire book on this topic, entitled Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty.

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