Challenging the Reins of Fast Food

By Jenn Burka

At first glance, this commercial seems like merely a nostalgic look at early McDonald’s advertising. It’s a carefree and simple marketing strategy: appeal to the mothers of the family. Mother’s want to see happy kids eating quality foods in a pleasant environment.

The look has evolved, but the power of fast food marketing remains powerful. On my daily commute into DC last week, I heard a commercial that made me squirm. KFC was advertising their latest value pack. For about $8, you can feed your entire family. Why bother cooking? It’s a waste of time, energy and money.

Information gathered by The Kitchn Blog found that many Americans choose not to cook for many reasons: they don’t know how to cook, grocery shopping is inconvenient, or cooking is too time consuming.

In areas of the country labeled “Food Deserts,” these reasons not to cook become even more relevant. The Healthy Food Financing Initiative defines food deserts as “communities, particularly low-income areas, in which residents do not live in close proximity to affordable and healthy food retailers. Healthy food options in
these communities are hard to find or are unaffordable.” I know it’s always a struggle for me to find the least insulting fast food option in some parts of the US. However, I assumed for a long time that these food deserts were only found in rural America. But this is not true – urban food deserts are growing in number as the disparity between rich and poor urban areas increases.

For families in poor urban areas, obtaining fresh and healthy foods require taking public transportation. This takes time and money. The effort of hauling of groceries, perhaps with children in tow, further complicates the process.

This year, the US Department of Agriculture released a food desert
. In DC, food deserts mainly occur in Wards 5, 7, and 8.These are
also DC’s most blighted areas (see the areas in pink below).

DC Hunger Solutions supplements this map with some other facts about food deserts and hunger in DC (2008-2010 statistics):

  • 13% of all households in DC were food insecure in 2008-2010
  •  37.4% of households with children in DC said they were unable to afford enough food
  • Of the city’s 43 full-service grocery stores, only two are located in DC’s food deserts; ward 3 – the highest-income Ward – has 11 full-service stores

You can visit the Food Research Action Center Demographics, Poverty and Food Insecurity search to learn more about the changes regarding these issues in DC.

Although these studies work to identify where the problem exists, there is a lot of work to be done to actually combat food deserts in DC. As an individual, you can make a stance.

A common misconception is that healthy, fresh foods are too expensive and fast food or eating out is cheaper. After all, you can get an entire meal off dollar menus for three or four dollars. Slow Food, an organization established to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world, present an interesting challenge, and a great way of educating people about how to eat healthily and affordably. Join me and take the $5 Dollar Challenge. On September 17, make the “value meal” what it’s meant to be – an affordable, fun, healthy meal that you make yourself because slow food shouldn’t cost more than fast food. Sign up for the challenge today! Several DC foodies are hosting slow food $5 dollar meal dinner parties, allowing you to meet new people dedicated to the ethos of Slow Food. You can also host your own dinner party with these $5 Tips and Tricks. Tell us about your dinner party ideas in the comment section. We’d love to see pictures too.


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