Chicago Food Deserts Shrink. Are Chicagoans Eating Healthier?

The problem of food deserts — areas where residents have no convenient access to fresh produce — is a concern in the Chicago metropolitan area.  Due to several local initiatives, areas in which fresh produce is available have expanded.  But recently the Tribune asked if is it enough to bring healthier food nearer people.

Maywood Market opened with great fanfare, billed as an oasis amid a “food desert” in this west suburb, where fresh fruits and vegetables were hard to find.

Despite the hopes of community leaders and health advocates, one item remains in short supply more than a year later — shoppers pushing carts brimming with food.

On a recent day, the well-stocked aisles were virtually empty, the only sound was the soft hum of the refrigeration system. And there have been plenty of similar days, said co-owner Bob Haralambopoulos, who worries about the store’s survival.

“We’ve tried a lot of things — advertising, sales — but we haven’t reached our goal yet,” he said, sitting in the grocery’s shuttered restaurant, which once served hot, ready-made meals such as broasted chicken and fish…

With about 75 percent of its population African-American and 20 percent Latino, Maywood is a microcosm for the food desert problem playing out in urban areas across the country. The local market is struggling to find customers even as first lady Michelle Obama and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, among others, have tried to draw attention to the issue.

All the news is not bad. A study earlier this summer by the Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group found that the number of Chicagoans living in food deserts has declined by 39 percent during the past five years.

Some residents, especially in parts of the South Austin community, the South Loop and Morgan Park, are living in “food oases,” where more healthful food options are plentiful, the study concluded.

The Gallagher report came out in June, shortly after Emanuel pledged to fast-track the permit and licensing procedures to encourage development of more grocery stores in the city.

The existence and consequences of food deserts is discussed in several Roosevelt University sustainability courses, including the Fall 2011 offerings SUST 240 Food (downtown) and sections of the introductory course SUST 210 The Sustainable Future downtown and online.  If you are interested in taking these or any of our courses, we encourage you to investigate our degree options, and our course listings. For more information, please visit our Sustainability Studies website, call 1-877-277-5978 (1-877-APPLY RU) or email applyRU@roosevelt.edu.

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