As a part of her “Let’s Move!” campaign, the government-funded endeavor to curb childhood obesity within a generation, First Lady Michelle Obama has lectured upon the necessity of eliminating “food deserts.” Mrs. Obama argues that these urban and rural communities, where the supply of wholesome foods and fresh produce is ostensibly very limited, are a direct cause of unhealthy lifestyle habits. If we would only subsidize easier access to more nutritious foods, she reasons, the people in these communities would use their newfound options to diversify their dinner plates, and hey, problem solved! Unfortunately, like most centrally-planned projects designed to impose top-down virtue, the First Lady’s plan isn’t really taking root, reports Bloomberg:
After vowing to open more than 1,000 stores selling fresh fruit and vegetables in underserved urban neighborhoods, or “food deserts,” grocers have opened a fraction of them, putting in jeopardy Michelle Obama’s effort to improve food choices for low-income Americans.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT), which said last July it would have 300 food-desert stores nationwide by 2016, has opened 23 and delayed opening some locations after a backlash from activists. Supervalu Inc. (SVU), which pledged to double to 2,376 its Save-A-Lot stores, has slowed the pace of openings amid declining sales and scarce financing for its licensees. Meanwhile, grocers are opening stores in wealthier urban enclaves.
Food desert locations, by definition, aren’t profitable, according to Nelson Lichtenstein, director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy at the University of California at Santa Barbara. …
Shoppers who live in low-income city neighborhoods “don’t fill up a basket and spend $100, they buy $10,” said Lichtenstein, who wrote “The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New World of Business.”
This is yet another example of nanny-state bureaucrats ignoring the laws of supply and demand and attacking the symptoms instead of the disease. First of all, last month the New York Times reported on a study that not only dismissed a correlation between food-desert locations and obesity rates, but also demonstrated that low-income neighborhoods are typically awash in food options, including nutritious foods. So, that’s your basic premise out the window right there.
Secondly, if there really aren’t many healthy foods to be found in these areas, it’s only because there isn’t a market for them. For whatever reason, people in these areas do not want to buy fresh-caught scallops and broccoli sprouts. The likeliest over-arching explanation is indeed low-income levels — having the time and money to plan, shop for, and cook nice healthful meals is a luxury that comes with prosperity — but spending taxpayer money to merely improve access to these communities’ foods isn’t going to change that.
If the Obama administration really wanted to improve Americans’ nutritional intake, they’d stop with the costly small-beans band-aids and instead look for ways to support the robust, flourishing economy that is the only true full-scale remedy for weeding out the problems of poverty. Hint: higher taxes, an unprecedented regulatory agenda, and meddling legislative hack jobs like ObamaCare don’t make the list.