The community grocery store; a place of familiarity for a household at any given time. Your typical grocery store, one that you visit at least once a week, either to get groceries or for the quick last-minute pickup, is a place that has become almost a second home for a lot of people. 

While being a familiar place, the supermarket itself is a place that has grown to become one of the places that cause hardships for families. Specifically due to food deserts, swamps and mirages. These areas are riddled throughout Northern America, specifically in Canada. Even within the city of Edmonton, accessibility to food has become a growing issue; affecting families all over the city.

What Is a Food Desert?

Food deserts have been known to dismantle communities. They are clear markers of areas that don’t receive enough care. The same can be said about swamps and mirages. All three are indicators of the inaccessibility to affordable food within an area, each distinctive from the other.

A food desert is a neighbourhood in which it’s tough to find groceries  and a food swamp is an area with a plethora of fast food and convenience stores

Mifi Purvis (UAlberta)

In a food mirage, grocery stores are plentiful but prices are beyond the means of low-income households, making them functionally equivalent to food deserts in that a long journey to obtain affordable, nutritious food is required in either case.

National Library of Medicine

So, in summary, we have food deserts where the distance from a neighbourhood to a grocery store is far, swamps, where they are a scarce amount of stores but an excess amount of fast food and convenience stores, and food mirages where healthy food is present but expensive; making price comparable to travel price within a food desert.

Why Does It Matter?

As you can tell, this poses a significant issue for many communities. We’re not living in a world where everyone has a standard income and there is a baseline standard price for food. Healthier food gets more and more expensive every day. Not only that but as cheaper housing is built, the underside of this issue is that these houses are being built in underdeveloped areas. This means that there is a lack of infrastructure as well as access to basic resources.

We’ve created a space in which groceries are hard to come by, and even when they can be accessed, they’re too expensive for the average family.

Within Edmonton, we have 8 food deserts and 13 food swamps. When we talk about what the impact is of these areas we neglect to note that this statistic is a representation of how we care for these communities. Lots of these areas are riddled with low-income housing, elderly individuals, and growing families; it’s clear that even though we know who lives in these areas, we continually choose to not provide the necessities for a healthy household.

Today, issues related to obesity and diabetes can be directly related to the accessibility of food. When we look at food swamps, a term commonly used to describe what Edmonton is, we see that there is an exploitation of people of a lower socioeconomic status. 

Essentially, we know who lives in these areas. We know how much money they have. Yet, we choose to provide unhealthy or expensive food to them; thus, disregarding them as a community. 

This is also an issue that continues to specifically happen in North America. With how we as a culture have chosen to value fast food, the need for healthy food options continues to diminish. Yes, there will always be people who eat home-cooked and healthy options, however when it comes time for families who can’t pay for expensive vegetables, perishables and consistently travel to the grocery store, a problem is present.

Accessibility also plays a major factor when we begin to discuss dietary restrictions as well. While living in specific areas, certain families may be restricted in the certain items they can eat due to their religious practices. Kosher and Halal options in meat have just recently become available at major grocery stores. I remember growing up, every week or two there was a 15-minute drive to the butcher, just so that my family could have meat we could eat for the week. I imagine not having access to transport or even a store in the near vicinity poses a notable problem for individuals. 

What Can Be Done?

I’ve heard multiple pitches for how this could be fixed, one being community gardens. While I agree that this could be a good option, many families don’t have the luxury of time, resources, and community that makes this an appropriate option.

I think one of the things that were a hard pill to swallow was that I never received proper nutritional education within the Alberta curriculum. This is a major issue because until we teach what healthy eating is, the creation of food swamps will continue to grow. 

Not only are we tackling an educational side to this issue but, we are also trying to counteract a clear elitism within the food industry. This elitism over certain procured produce and items is how we end up with pricier grocery stores leading to food mirages. It’s a systemic issue that frankly does more harm than good for a community.

There are even more factors to consider, but with looking at these two there is a possible solution. Funding can be pushed not only through the city-wide legislature, but also through the provincial legislature to make food more accessible. 

For me, I know I directly relate food with the current status in my life (as funny as it sounds). Food has always been the best motivator. It also has kept me going through long hours in the day. Food is a neglected part of our daily society. Building healthy relations with food is the first step to having successful communities and families. It’s what brings everyone together and it all starts in sourcing and distribution of the ingredients itself. If we fail to feed our communities, then we fail the communities themselves. 

About the Author

Hello!! I’m a first year Psychology major at UAlberta. I love putting my voice out there and being able to advocate or open up a dialogue about anything I’m passionate about. I’m so excited to create and work on new pieces that (I hope!!) you will all enjoy. Some of my hobbies are creating new Spotify albums and Pinterest boards while watching any docu series I can get my hands on.