Supermarket Subsidies: The Next Food Fight

“Location, location, location” is the predominant motto of realtors, but food activists have recently tried to claim the tagline as their own. In yesterday’s health report on CNN, reporter Keith Oppenheim turned real estate into a human interest story by introducing a 2006 study which identified “food deserts” — regions characterized by lack of access to chain supermarkets — in the greater Chicago area.The study’s authors argue that the absence of these stores is responsible for the poor quality of local residents’ diets, and the solution they propose lies in (not surprisingly) additional government regulations like subsidizes and food zoning. Last year in the Chicago Tribune the city’s health commissioner, Dr. Terry Mason, attributed the health problems “plaguing” the population to the availability of fast food. But even CNN’s footage shows that the availability of health food on store shelves does not ensure its presence in the checkout line. While Oppenheim bemoans the distance some patrons must travel to gain access to fresh produce, the cameraman captures a local “food desert” resident (in the midst of a cornucopia of produce) loading her cart with sugary drinks and frozen dinners, not lettuce and sprouts. Whether purchased at a bodega, a co-op, or a wholesale club, the contents of one’s dinner plate are ultimately determined by the preference of the consumer — not business, and certainly not the government.

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