More Food Desert Solutions With Problems

Childhood Obesity News has been looking at “Visioning For Healthful Food Access In Portland,” a document that originated in Portland, Oregon, to address the issue of food deserts. It is a striking example of what a city can do when it puts its mind to a task.

Within the specific, the universal is found. Few American cities are as idiosyncratic as Portland, but other places would benefit from adopting some of its characteristics. A city can generate a quirk-friendly political environment.

Let vendors set up old-fashioned wooden carts in pedestrian-friendly areas. Bring back roadside produce stands, and make the administrative chores as close to hassle-free as possible. Ease up on regulating “U-Pick” farms and co-ops.

The prospect of red tape nightmares has stopped many a worthy project in its tracks. Two suggestions that grew from the Portland research were,

Provide offsets for the cost of watering for community gardens and other urban agriculture projects and promote rainwater harvesting.

Encourage urban agriculture initiatives on City owned property, as well as at Portland Public School properties.

For most contemporary Americans, the “grow your own” dream often subsides, taking a back seat to other urgent concerns. But in some humans the urge to produce food springs eternal, and in others it can be cultivated. Detroit and a select few additional cities have fostered miracles of urban agriculture. Food Policy Councils exist in some places, and we will be discussing them soon. A municipality or county and/or its collaborating institutions can set up free or cheap classes on food growing and preservation.

The drawbacks

However, growing and preserving food are both labor-intensive and equipment-intensive endeavors. Even small-scale agriculture requires space, either at home or at some kind of collective site. You need a safe storage area for tools and supplies, and a neighborhood without miscreants who vandalize gardens as a hobby. Discouragement can set in when the would-be kitchen gardener realizes exactly how many variables need to be accounted for.

Decisions must be made about how to handle insect pests and marauding animals. Depending on where you live, there might even be deer. Cats will use the garden plot for a toilet, and spread toxoplasmosis. Drought conditions might force the local water authority to limit use. In some places, it is illegal to harvest rainwater. In some places, people have gotten in trouble for growing veggies in their own yards. Zoning ordinances and housing association rules can be stifling.

Indoor growing has its own set of difficulties. Even the most rudimentary hydroponic system requires the purchase of containers and lights, and you kind of actually need your own basement, and the ability to pay the electric bill. Even so, people who grow tomatoes in their basements have been raided, on suspicion of growing something else. In the past few years, rooftop gardens have come into vogue.

As for old-fashioned food preservation, like with Mason jars, that project also requires a lot of equipment, preparation space, and storage space. In addition, food poisoning is very hazardous, and if a litigious person claims that the Community Center taught them wrong, things could get messy. Yes, we have electric dehydrators now, but they are expensive.

One researcher found that “food access is frequently the result of perception, not fact, with residents in poor neighborhoods unaware of the proximity (less than one kilometer) of food retailers.” It sounds unlikely, but the writer of this post once had neighbors who were unaware of living six blocks from the Pacific Ocean, beach and all.

It goes back to the concept of deprivation amplification, the cost of being poor. Sometimes, the daily struggle to survive in the moment is so exhausting, a person is literally incapable of curiosity or initiative.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Visioning For Healthful Food Access In Portland,” PDX.edy, June 2009
Source: “Redefining the Food Desert: Combining Computer-Based GIS with Direct Observation To Measure Food Access,”, Dec 2014
Photo credit: State Library and Archives of Florida on Visualhunt/No known copyright restrictions

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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