Study Finds Over 100,000 Tucsonans Could Be Living in Areas Without Access to Nutritional Food—Help Do Something About It

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Food desert isn't so much about where we live geographically. - RICHARD MASONER / CYCLELICIOUS / FLICKR
  • Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious / Flickr
  • Food desert isn't so much about where we live geographically.

While there’s much to celebrate in the gastronomic world of Tucson lately, there’s also a lot of work to do and that doesn’t just mean giving money to your new favorite restaurant. After all, many of those pioneering autonomous organizations that helped win the city of Tucson its recent acclaim grew from a genuine need from the community and a lack of state funding or interest. One of the biggest food-related social justice issues to plague the Old Pueblo still is that of food deserts.

While it may seem like the term “food desert” is pretty much a given here in Tucson, know that it actually means “geographically isolated areas where access to healthy, affordable foods … is limited or non-existent because of the absence of full-service grocery stores within easy travel distance,” and those can exist anywhere—regardless of natural climate.

Unfortunately, according to a new study from Making Action Possible Dashboard for Southern Arizona (or MAP Dashboard for short), tens of thousands of people living in the city could be living in one of those food deserts where getting the nutritious foods that everyone needs (and enough of those foods) is nearly impossible.

The MAP Dashboard study, done in conjunction with UA’s Eller College of Management, Community Foundation of Southern Arizona and Southern Arizona Leadership Council, found that, depending on the criteria used, anywhere from 81,000 to 156,000 people in Tucson are currently living in food deserts.

Sure, the region also boasts a massive community food bank that distributes nearly 65,000 meals every day to food insecure people in southern Arizona. The study also noted the role that small, mom-and-pop grocers and bodegas play in providing access to nutritious foods. And, of course, the gleaning efforts to redistribute food to those who need it by way of organizations like Iskashitaa Refugee Network and Borderlands Food Bank are truly an inspirational vision of ways to eliminate food waste at both grassroots and more institutional levels. However, it shouldn’t be left almost exclusively to nonprofit groups and single individuals to carry the full weight of serving this massive population of people in need of healthful foods.

On Tuesday, April 5, you can donate to any of the aforementioned nonprofits that are, in general, as inspirational as they are kick ass in leading this fight to keep Tucson fed. Arizona Gives Day encourages everyone in the state to rally together for 24 hours to donate funds to nonprofits like those, with the chance to win $175,000 in prize money on top of donations given. Visit the Arizona Gives Day website for information on that particular initiative.

However, it’s also important to remember that this is an election year (how could anyone forget?). That means as Tucsonans and Arizonans we have a way to send a message to the city and state that being able to feed the food insecure does matter, that city initiatives making it prohibitively difficult to feed those in need won’t fly anymore and that it's time to take the burden off of individuals to get that job done. After all, 100,000 Tucsonans’ lives and well-being pretty much depend on it.  

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