A nutritional desert is an area where people have difficulty accessing diverse, healthy foods. As a result, residents of a nutritional desert often eat poorly balanced diets, potentially creating health problems for themselves. Nutritional deserts are also sometimes referred to as “food deserts,” and they are especially common in inner cities, where citizens may more generally lack access to basic goods and services.
In a typical nutritional desert, citizens have access to some food, but not a diverse and balanced selection of food. It is also common to have especially limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and for food to be comparatively very expensive in a nutritional desert. For example, residents of a neighborhood might only be able to shop at a corner store, where there is an abundance of expensive and heavily processed food, and a dearth of things like salad greens and fruit.
Classically, nutritional deserts may also have a high concentration of fast food restaurants, and their residents are often poor. It is also common for the people who live in a nutritional desert to rely heavily on public transit, lacking private vehicles or the ability to use them, and as a result, they are heavily dependent on the offerings in their surrounding neighborhood. When faced with a choice between fast food down the street, or a long bus ride out of the neighborhood for fresh ingredients, it is perhaps not surprising that some people opt for the fast food, especially if they have to cope with caring for related dependents or grueling work schedules.
There are a number of reasons for a nutritional desert to form. Many such regions are in minority neighborhoods, suggesting that a certain amount of redlining may be occurring. Redlining is a practice in which banks and other lenders refuse to invest in a specific area, making it hard to open a new supermarket or any other sort of business; commonly when a district is redlined, loans are also denied to the residents. Although this practice is explicitly illegal in most countries, it is unfortunately still common in some regions, because it can be difficult to prove that a bank is practicing redlining.
Residents of a nutritional desert may also lack the education to seek out healthier food choices, and their lack of education may also prevent them from agitating for change in their neighborhoods. Educational differences can also mean that people cannot get high-paying jobs, and as a result, they are financially restricted as well.
Fighting nutritional deserts can be challenging. In some communities, people have risen up to form community gardens to improve access to produce, and charitable organizations have participated in community education to assist people who are interested in learning more about healthy food choices. Actively fighting redlining and other discriminatory practices is also an important step in eliminating food deserts, as is a willingness to work across political, cultural, and social boundaries.