Poverty is a massive issue in the 2010 version of New Orleans, and with that comes a food insecurity rate that is among the highest in the nation (60 percent of residents say they have to choose between paying utility bills and buying food some months). And as is true in so many other low-income communities around the country, the problem is not only about money, but also about access to quality food. Even if every New Orleans resident could afford high-quality groceries every day, the city’s infrstructure for providing the food can’t yet keep up with demand.
The average grocery store in the city — there are 20, compared to 30 before Katrina — serves 16,000 people, twice the national average, according to Amara Foster, who saw the problem up close as a National Hunger Fellow in New Orleans. Writing for the Center for American Progress, Foster reports that, especially in the poorest neighborhoods of the city, the number of corner markets selling chips and candy far outstrips the number of proper grocery stores, contributing to the oft-misunderstood connection between poverty and obesity.
New Orleans’ troubles convincingly illustrate the tremendous need for the expansion of anti-hunger programs proposed by President Obama. Obama’s budget for next year would dramatically increase the amount spent on child nutrition programs. Just as importantly, it would dedicate $400 million per year to bringing fresh food to corner stores and to funding new grocery stores and farmers’ markets. For New Orleans residents who don’t want to compete with their 16,000 closest friends at the grocery store, that’s a good idea.
I got into an argument last night with a guy who said that people eating badly was a “cultural” problem and that we just had to teach them to eat better. I wish I’d had this to show him.