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Empty Plates at Empty Tables



A new report from our friends at the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) finds millions of Americans report it is “not easy to get affordable fresh fruits and vegetables,” with low-income and some minority groups reporting the greatest accessibility challenges. 
 “A Half Empty Plate: Fruit and Vegetable Affordability and Access Challenges in America” surveyed more than 1 million households between 2008 and 2010 to determine whether people reported lacking easy access to fresh produce. About 8.2 percent of respondents answered that they had a hard time getting affordable fresh fruits and vegetables, a number that widely varies according to income, ethnicity and geographic region.
Households with an annual income of less than $24,000 reported affordability and access challenges roughly 2.5 times more frequently than households with income between $60,000 and $89,999, for example. Meanwhile, Hispanics and Blacks reported higher rates of difficulty than Whites and Asians, and families faced a slightly tougher time accessing fruits and vegetables compared to the general population, with 9.0 percent reporting challenges.
Households in the Mountain Plains region reported the most accessibility difficulties at roughly 10 percent, while the report finds the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions had the lowest rates (7.3 percent and 7.8 percent, respectively).
Researchers expected some of the results, but still found the data surprising. “I think we were surprised just by how large the differences were, and the disparities we saw,” says FRAC’s Heather Hartline-Grafton, who oversaw the report.
FRAC’s report is important because while there has been much research in recent years on area-based measures, such as the prevalence of food deserts, there have been few reports of households’ own struggles to buy affordable healthy produce.
Or, to put it in simpler terms, advocates have done a good job looking at the supply side of produce. “We also need to increase the demand by making sure that people have the resources to afford the foods,” Hartline-Grafton says.
FRAC put forth recommendations to increase accessibility, including retaining and supporting programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women Infants and Children (WIC); increasing produce availability in areas that lack affordable healthy food, often called as food deserts; and increasing wages for low-income workers.
“I’m pretty optimistic,” Hartline-Grafton adds. “I think we would like to see more being done, more work being done to protect SNAP to make sure people have access to those benefits… and can live a life that’s healthy.”