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Five Paths Out of the Food Desert

by Greg Tucker

Americans produce more food, eat more of it (check out our obesity rates), and waste more by sending it to landfills. Finding healthy, affordable food should not be a problem in the United States. But it is.

This contradiction between U.S. food production and obesity rates can often be explained by one word: access. In too many communities, cheap fast food is easier to find than more nutritious alternatives.

Approximately 23.5 million Americans (including 6.5 million children) live in food deserts – rural or urban communities that have limited access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. The results of this problem are reflected in higher rates of diet-related ailments, such as diabetes and heart disease.

An Oasis in the Food Desert

One of the goals of the Let's Read. Let's Move. initiative is to spread the word about healthy eating and food choices. Consider these tips to create your own food oasis, even if you don't live in a food desert.

Down on the Farm: Farmers markets are fantastic resources to find fresh fruits and vegetables in season from local farms. To improve access to these markets for those receiving public assistance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is working to make it easier to use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits at farmers markets across the nation. To find a farmers market in your area, visit the USDA's Farmers Markets Search page.

Bulk Up With Veggies: Timesaver packaging makes dinnertime easier, but you can do this yourself. Cut up items like peppers, carrots, and broccoli as soon as you bring them home and prepackage them for use later.

Knowledge is Power: Sometimes we need a little guidance about healthy eating habits. One resource can be found online at ChooseMyPlate.gov, which is filled with information about planning healthy and nutritious meals.

A Can and a Plan: Even if you don't have access to fresh fruits and veggies, they can still be found in the canned food aisle and the frozen food section. These items solve one of the problems associated with eating healthier – waste – while providing the same nutrients. Just make sure to read the label to ensure there are no unhealthy additives inside the package. Look for vegetables with “low sodium” or “no salt added,” and fruits packed in 100% fruit juice.

Become a Microwave Chef: The microwave can be used to quickly cook fresh and frozen vegetables to enhance your diet. Try steaming broccoli, green beans, or carrots in a bowl with a little water to give meals a quick nutritious boost.

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