Mind the (Grocery) Gap: Walking For Equal Food Access

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I was born and raised in DC’s Ward 7, and I saw my single mother with diabetes struggle to get the food we needed. She couldn’t travel far for food, and our neighborhood didn’t have many choices. When she shopped at the stores we were able to get to, my mother didn’t always choose things that were good for her health, because she didn’t know much about nutrition and its role in her diabetes management and overall health.  There was no one to share that information with her, and she didn’t have sufficient access to the food that would have helped her anyway.

My mom’s story isn’t uncommon. For too many people East of the River, in fact, it rings true everyday.

In DC’s Wards 7 and 8, options for fresh affordable food are scarce: there are only 3 full service grocery stores for the over 150,000 people who live there.  It’s too difficult for many residents– especially the 47% who have no access to a personal vehicle and the 17% who have a disability– to get to fresh, healthy food. Those who can get to a grocery store often face long lines, limited item selection, and a lack of quality meat and produce options.  This has direct impacts on people’s health: the highest rates of obesity and chronic disease are among those living East of the River. Residents are dramatically more likely to die from chronic diet-related disease.

In honor of my mother, and those like her, I walked alongside hundreds of other people from throughout our region on a recent Saturday at the first ever Grocery Walk, to raise our voices and show our common commitment to ending the food injustice in Wards 7 and 8. As a proud employee of the Capital Area Food bank, which co-sponsored the walk, I marched the two miles to downtown Anacostia from the nearest grocery store – over 2 miles away. It’s a short walk for those out in the air of a pleasant afternoon. It’s a lifetime away for someone who is carrying many days’ worth of groceries. Or has young children. Or is disabled. Or is elderly. And on and on.

Good food is essential to a good, healthy life, and your zip code shouldn’t determine your health.

Access to healthy food shouldn’t be a luxury – it a human right.

But until it is true in our area that all people have adequate access to good, healthy food, we will continue working – and marching.