Food fights just aren’t what they used to be. In the first of what promises to be a series of skirmishes, a journalist, an advocate and researchers are combatants over whether food deserts matter to health or not.
Somewhere between the New York Times’ publication of “Studies Question the Pairing of Food Deserts and Obesity” and the Chicago Tribune’s follow-up reporting where consultant and advocate Mari Gallagher was quoted saying the NYT article “muddied the water at best, misled at worst and left the inaccurate impression that food access and the concept of food deserts does not matter” things have gotten fairly heated and groups working on access to healthy foods all over the country (SLHI included) have had to look up from their work and question exactly what’s going on.
This food fight is about as worthy of our attention as a cafeteria-based one, once you chew on some of the details. Gallagher published a detailed analysis-defense-critique on her blog. Meanwhile the Times reporter has responded that Gallagher should take it up with the researchers and leave her out of it. In other words, it’s time to mop up whatever temporary mess got made and carry on.
The real issue lies in not seeing the forest for the trees. Arguing whether food deserts can statistically be fingered as obesity’s smoking gun is practically irrelevant, even if Gallagher can point to numerous studies that provide statistical correlation. Common sense and the course of history tell us much more than discrete research ever could on this one.
Bottom line: health is predicated upon ingestion of nutritious food, and if you can’t reach it, you can’t it eat. No one could’ve guessed that we’d end up with food deserts – or even food swamps – when wheels were set in motion half a century ago to increase U.S. food production and ensure food security. But here we are. It’s time to stop fretting the finer points and focus energy on the changes that basic epiphanies can trigger more quickly than years of discrete research ever will.