MANSFIELD: The Myth That Just Won’t Quit

Some myths, especially urban myths, once they take hold, they just won’t die. Such is the case with “food deserts.” Some very well-meaning university folks came up with the term a few years ago and now, no matter how much thoughtful and educated residents who actually live in these supposed “deserts” protest that they don’t actually exist, the myth just won’t go away. The term is bandied about as if it’s gospel.

This is no small matter because bad information, predicated on bad logic, will lead to bad results when policies are being formulated to try to solve the problems of the disadvantaged families that live in these supposed deserts, folks that are plagued with ill health and shorter life expectancies.

Obviously the lack of a proper diet plays a significant role in the negative outcomes that poor people face, but trying to place a supermarket on every corner in neighborhoods like Hough, Glenville and other eastside communities is not the answer. Do people that have healthier diets have a supermarket on every corner of their neighborhoods? Of course not.

True, decades and decades ago there were corner grocery stores on virtually every corner in some neighborhoods. The stores that still exist in marginal communities now only sell Black & Milds, 40-ounces, hair extensions and lottery tickets. In fact, when the term “food desert” was first coined, the university people who came up with it thought that the solution was to attempt to convince the owners of these corner stores to carry healthier fare, not realizing that in the black community we don’t want our females (especially younger ones) going into these establishments in the first place.

If you don’t understand why black males don’t want their women going into these establishments then it’s due to your lack of cultural competency, which is exactly the problem the university folks who came up with this “solution” suffered from. Yet they hold themselves out as “experts” on the problems and challenges facing black and poor people. And no, I’m not going to explain it to you.

The real reasons for poor dietary choices in marginal communities are two-fold: A lack of education and a lack of transportation.

As my family’s shopper I visit my local Dave’s Supermarket on a fairly regular basis for small items; for regular shopping I drive out to Costco where the prices and quality are appreciably better. But when I’m in Dave’s it’s hard for me not to be nosey and sneak peeks into the grocery carts of young mothers. What I’ve discovered in too many cases they have walked right past the fresh vegetable section and made a beeline to the Little Debbie snack cakes that their children will wash down with sugary drinks.

And then teachers wonder why the child can’t sit still for very long. So parents have to be educated on what they put in their children’s mouths, which is going to be a tough nut to crack.

And if there really is a food desert then the solution is to provide adequate transportation to quality supermarkets for residents who don’t have access to transportation. And no, RTA isn’t the answer.

What’s needed is free Uber-type service for the elderly, mothers with small children, and the disabled — and it can be paid for by setting up an endowment. It really can. In that way these populations can not only gain access to fresh and healthy food, but go to doctor appointments, community meetings and other places that people who have access to vehicles routinely go without thinking twice about it.

Now I can already hear all of the naysayers; people who don’t face transportation challenges really are not interested in solving the problem of those who do. But this is something that is doable, and one day we’ll wonder why we didn’t do it sooner. It’s a matter of life and health.

From CoolCleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author at

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