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Karin Dryhurst

We May As Well Subsidize Blue Cheese

Communities near Boston, Orlando, and Miami are praising fresh access to produce at local farmers markets.

Federal grants have allowed farmers markets to accept food stamps, allowing low-income residents access to often expensive fresh produce. Michelle Obama has been praised for her focus on the elimination of food deserts and childhood obesity.

But Daniel Engberg at Slate thinks this gives "short shrift" to canned and frozen produce. He complains that canned produce can be just as nutritious as fresh and that the focus on fresh simply pushes the preferences of the rich onto the poor.

We know, for example, that people have lower rates of chronic disease when they live in neighborhoods with supermarket produce aisles. That could mean that poor people get sick because they don't have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Or, it could mean that rich people, who are already healthy, happen to be eating fresh produce. We might ask the same question of any other high-end foodstuff that turns up more often in posh ZIP codes—blue cheese, perhaps, or $200-per-pound Jamon Iberico de bellota.

Engberg implies that the culture of the poor allows for different food preferences than the culture of the rich. The point of this program is to allow low-income families to have a preference at all by removing fresh fruit and vegetables from the "high-end" shelf.

Low-income families already have access to canned and frozen produce through SNAP. And one woman in Overtown, near Miami, made do with canned vegetables until a farmers market that accepted SNAP opened across the street. From the Miami Herald:

[Sarah] Wallace, who has lived in Overtown her whole life, didn't believe the market was going to happen until she saw the trial run for herself last Wednesday. She walked away with a big bag of fresh produce and the hope that it dispels the notion that African Americans don't want to eat fresh vegetables.

``They think we're swine people, but a lot of us like to eat healthy food,'' said Wallace, 53. ``On $40 a month, I've got to really stretch it. I prefer to eat fresh vegetables. I just can't afford it.''

Engberg should be careful to compare granting access to fresh local fruits and vegetables to pushing a preference for rare cured ham from Spain.

Karin Dryhurst: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 12:07 PM, Mar 31, 2010 in Cities | Food Policy
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