Yesterday I stumbled across a story of an Obama Administration official who, complaining about the lack of availability of fresh produce in inner cities, the idea of a food desert, pointed to the president as an example of someone who’d lived in places where there was no fresh produce readily available and would have had to drive or take the subway if he’d wanted to buy fresh produce. I decided to investigate whether that were true, at least in Chicago.
Within twenty minutes I had identified every place Barack Obama had lived in Chicago and the nearby groceries. As it turns out, at least in Chicago, President Obama has never lived in a place where fresh produce was not readily available.
Now, just for the record, my view of the food desert issue is:
- The lack of availability of fresh produce in inner cities is greatly exaggerated.
- Food choices are governed more by preference and habit than they are by availability. Although, at least in the spring and summer, I could probably live off the stuff growing in nearby alleys, I still go to the grocery store for food. As long as we’ve been a species we’ve preferentially sought out the calorically densest food that was available. Nowadays fast foods and snack foods make that easier than ever and the calories they provide are denser than ever.
- What you eat, what you like to eat, and how you process different foods is governed by your genes and your experience. Education may help at the margins.
I might add that seventy years ago every large American city was ringed by farms and greenhouses that supplied fresh produce to the cities they adjoined. Where O’Hare Airport is now there used to be an apple orchard—its three letter designation code, ORD, is short for Orchard. That’s for Orchard Avenue, the road that went to the orchard. The reason we no longer have that availability is transportation policy and zoning. That’s a decision that was made a couple of generations ago.
I decided not to write the post I’d originally considered. Politicians exaggerate, make bad assumptions, and say dumb things. So what?
What truly struck me was the amazing even alarming ease with which I could gather such detailed information.
BTW, there’s a really charming organic grocery store about three blocks from the president’s current Chicago residence.