(NEWARK, NJ) – If you travel more than one mile to a supermarket, supercenter, or large grocery store with healthy, affordable food options in an urban area, and more than 20 miles in a rural area, you live in this which is considered the definition of a food desert by the United States Department of Agriculture.
This lack of access affects approximately 17 million Americans according to the Food Access Research Atlas. Data also shows that people who live a half mile or more from food options in urban areas, or 10 miles in rural areas, increase that number to more than 53 million Americans, including those in New Jersey.
In January 2021, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed into law the Food Desert Relief Act, part of the Economic Recovery Act, which will provide approximately $240 million in funding to combat this issue in the state.
The Food Desert Relief Act provides tax breaks to stores that open in underserved areas, grants loans and other assistance to stores of all types to operate in food deserts.
The New Jersey Community Food Bank estimates that 800,000 New Jersey residents face food insecurity, and nearly 200,000 of them are children.
Robert Brown, 53, of Newark, NJ, commutes two miles from his home to a ShopRite, without a car, telling ABC News that price and options are a factor “I live about 20 blocks away, but we have a store downstairs, where I live, but they are so high, I come here. I don’t need to spend my money there, and I get a bit of nothing when I can get everything I need.
Katrina Moseley, 45, has to go further because the two-mile drive to ShopRite is her second grocery trip of the day, “I started at 8 a.m. this morning, went to Walmart, I got home like 11:30 a.m., rest a bit, took the bus what time is it, got here around 12, 12 or 1 a.m. Bought I take my time in the store to do things, and now I wait for the transport to go home.
Moseley depends on two different bus routes, taxis and relatives to pick her up, as she spends her day off feeding her family of four, including a daughter with a baby on the way, “So I’m going to Walmart for get the bulk of the meat because it lasts, you can do like… One of their meat packs, you can do like 2-3 meals, it all depends on how you do it.
Return transportation is also a problem for Brown, knowing that some options are inconvenient, “if I would have tried to get on the bus with that, it would be too much, it would be too much.”
Tara Colton, executive vice president for economic security for the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, said tackling food deserts, a product of structural racism, neighborhood demarcation and divestment, is not not as simple as building a supermarket: “You can live next door to the most amazing market or farmer’s market, but if you can’t afford to buy
the food there, or they don’t accept federal nutrition programs like snap, then it’s inaccessible to you.
Support and Serve NJ originally started as a $2 million pilot program to help with food security, in conjunction with support from the states restaurant industry in 2020. The program grew into a $45 million initiative, paying the restaurants to deliver ready-to-eat meals directly to those in need. Colton told ABC News, “I often say it’s not about getting people to eat, it’s about getting people food. And there are lots of ways to do it. They can walk into a big building and buy it, put it in the truck of a car, but you can also take it to them more centrally.
Colton touts the program: “That dollar you spend keeps the restaurant open, the workers employed, and provides people who often don’t have access to this type of food, a healthy, nutritious home-cooked meal.”
For those like Moseley who prefer to cook their own meals, despite the mile-long odyssey through several supermarkets, the focus is not on feeling disenfranchised, but on doing what is right. needed for his family, “Those I have to worry about, so that’s what I do for them, shop. Do it, apart.
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