Food Deserts in Chicago

Cameron Cox and Nadia Strong


We live in an era where fast food consumes our diets and people care less and less about the things they nourish their body with. Specifically, in Chicago there’s an abundance of corner stores and fast food restaurants that appear convenient to younger people because of the cheap cost and common locations. Kids in the neighborhoods plagued by food deserts are usually a part of lower or middle class income families and aren’t given lunch money or packed lunches, so one of their only options are going to these stores. A specific area in Chicago that was notorious for its food desert is Englewood, located on the southside.

          The USDA defines food deserts as “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.” Neighborhoods like Englewood were usually neglected in the effort to consume affordable and organic foods. The term “food desert” implies a negative connotation. It suggests that people in those areas are inferior to people in other neighborhoods because the city doesn’t care enough to supply them with quality grocery stores. Englewood resident, Brendan Foster ‘17 offers a different view, “Black people in this neighborhood won’t make use of higher quality grocery stores due to the difference in price from the ones in local stores.”

         Residents of Englewood usually shop at Aldi’s. Aldi’s isn’t a bad alternative either; it supplies less items which makes the store less confusing and hectic than other supermarkets. Their foods are conveniently priced as well. Aldi’s mission statement says, “Our unique business model enables us to provide the highest quality products at the lowest possible prices. This value stems from the numerous efficiencies and innovations we’ve instituted at every level of our operation. Our stores offer the customer over 1,400 of the most commonly purchased grocery and household products in the most common size – in a smaller, more manageable environment designed with sustainable, long-term savings in mind.” The only flaw may be that their products aren’t name brand. They have their own supply of organic foods but it’s just the basics. Even with an Aldi, Englewood is still considered a food desert. A concerned student, Taylor Coward ‘17 states, “Predominantly black neighborhoods in our city are in dire need of adequate grocery stores. Cardiovascular diseases and hypertension have been an epidemic in black communities for years. With access to fresh produce, the diet of disadvantaged communities can change and create a positive trend in the health of the suffering communities in Chicago and throughout the nation.”

Recently, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has noticed the food desert issue in our city and has set out certain plans to reduce the number of them. The Mayor’s initiatives led to the construction of a Whole Foods on the corner of 63rd and Halsted, the heart of Englewood. “Food deserts are not only a Chicago phenomenon,” Emanuel said. “I think this is going to be an incredible role model for other cities across the country and across the world, who will look at what Whole Foods has done, our community colleges have done, to give people economic opportunity, but also have the opportunity for parents to make sure their kids have access to high-quality food.” This new grocery store brought jobs to residents of the area, a wider variety of quality food, and lower prices for these foods. Obviously, the problem is deeper than such a simple solution. This was only a small step in the grand scheme of things. The southside of Chicago as a whole is still a food desert and it doesn’t help for new grocery stores to be built only blocks away from local stores like Aldi’s.

A lot of our youth aren’t even aware of this issue. Most kids and teenagers are ignorant to the idea of food deserts. Without education about what this issue is then young people can’t possibly know that their health is being jeopardized. A student born and raised on the southside, Morgan Forney, admitted, “I don’t know what a food desert is. I didn’t even know it existed.” Education could initiate a push for change in these communities.

This topic is often overlooked so it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Awareness is often the first step to solving any national issue. Getting the word out and having people get exposed to neighborhoods other than their own would allow them to understand how food deserts affect our city more thoroughly. Though steps have been taken to reduce food deserts in Chicago, not enough has been done. Are you satisfied with the access your neighborhood has to quality, organic foods?