The town my family and I live in is a food desert in the desert, which makes it much worse, I can assure you. The rural area where we are raising our family used to be home to hundreds of acres of cotton- a source of income and connection in a place with more livestock than people.
I grew up not far from here, about a half hour drive away. My grandparents have lived here for as long as I can remember, though I know my Grandfather was forced to flee the city of his birth- Budapest- as the war gave residents little choice but to flee, catching a ride on a boat headed to the U.S., a story he has told me many times, because it was so terrible and because he misses the beautiful country. Before his health declined to such an extent that he had to move from the home he’s lived in for at least 30 years, and before he started forgetting some of his past, he would describe Budapest with such pride and with so many details I could almost picture it.
My Grandfather and Grandmother on my mother’s side came from other places, but for as long as I can remember they have lived around the corner from where I live. The main street in our town has hardly changed in the 30 plus years I have visited them here. There is one grocery store, but you don’t go into it unless you just want a lottery ticket. I have gone into the grocery store once, and every product I looked at was expired. They also did not sell bread. There were many things they did not sell, but not selling bread seemed odd. The folks that own the grocery store specializing in past due perishable foods also own the laundromat which is attached to the store.
When you exit the freeway and turn on to our equivalent of Main Street USA, you will have your pick of two convenience stores with gas pumps. For reasons unclear the business on the right side of the street is always hopping, but the sad looking equivalent store, just with a different name generally sits empty. The windows there are so dark I’ve often thought they’ve finally given up due to lack of business and shut the store down. They haven’t, but I wonder how they still exist.
Another mainstay that has been here as long as I can recall is the town tavern. I have driven by it easily a thousand times on my way back and forth to “the big city” (I love saying that- it makes me feel like our small little town really is a special holdout of the rural life) but I still don’t know what the name of it is!
In the last few years new home subdivisions have eaten up a lot of former farmland. Many farmers have lost their income and way of life as more and more people from the big city move this way for the peace and quiet. They erect large walls around their communities to block the views of cotton fields, horses, cows and many chickens!
Rather new as well is a Family Dollar. I never liked Family Dollar. I get grumpy when a store calls or implies it is a dollar store, when really it’s not. I love dollar stores, because I am frugal and always on a strict budget. Paying more for what I know is at the dollar stores in the city just feels lazy. I recently decided to conduct a project as I wandered Family Dollar, after stopping there for an emergency toilet paper purchase. I decided I would go through each grocery aisle to see how long my family and I could eat, if we could only eat food sold at this store. While I was able to do so simply for the sake of curiosity, I am well aware that many of our neighbors have to rely upon this store for all of their needs. We have a large senior citizen/snowbird community, many of whom are disabled. While there is a van available to take them to the doctor offices or to the Wal-Mart 20 minutes away, many of the elderly residents do not choose this, for reasons that are none of my business.
Back to the project. Those that do not eat meat would not be able to make it long with the offerings found on the shelves and refrigerated section of Family Dollar. As this is what my family and I are changing our diets to- since it aligns with our overwhelming concern about factory farms, GMO’s and pesticides. I know being a vegetarian does not eliminate the possibility of unknowingly ingesting GMO’s and pesticides- in fact I would think that vegetarians would be more likely to be directly eating produce and other whole food contaminated with these poisons. Meat eaters get their unwanted, unlabelled dose of GMO and antibiotics from the crud fed to factory farmed animals that are then eaten as dinner, very often around our country.
Here’s what we could eat if (knock on wood that it will never occur!) our car did not run and we could only get food within a long walking distance:
Eggs and toast with margarine- no butter here!
Very sugary cereals, breakfast bars with as much sugar as candy bars
Instant oatmeal with questionable ingredients
Breakfast burritos- Eggs, beans, diced tomatoes and/or salsa
Peanut butter sandwiches (No way on the souped up with high fructose corn syrup jams!)
Quesadilla with canned veggies (drained and rinsed well, but still likely to come from a can coated in BPA) with cheddar cheese and salsa
Beans and rice
Now, if we ate meat there would be additional options like cans of chicken and tuna, one skillet meal with chicken and veggies, ready in 12 minutes! Mostly though there is aisle after aisle of processed foods, high in calories, fat, sodium and sugar- usually high fructose corn syrup. Family Dollar does not sell fresh fruit- only the little containers of fruit in heavy sugar syrup. If you’re lucky the convenience store down the road will have received a shipment of apples and bananas so you can eat something unprocessed occasionally. Can you imagine if your only choice for what to eat every day was mostly heavily processed, unhealthy junk? No wonder the doctor offices are always so busy! Diabetes, hyperactive children, overweight and obese adults; so much of how we feel is what we eat.
Just a few weeks ago excitement was buzzing through the town as the ground was broken for a new business. For several years the big news around town was that the next business to open here would be a grocery store. Provided it was not erected on any of the diminishing farmland, that would be the best option for all of the residents here. Finally folks without transportation or good health could add some real food into their diets- it would be fantastic! The rumors kept spreading, and every time we drove by we tried to guess what the new building was going to be. I quizzed the women working at the convenience store, the woman at the post office- everyone had their own opinion of what it would be or had heard what it was likely going to be. I didn’t want to believe the news when I was told, as it was the worst possible place that could be built in our desert food desert. I was angry, disgusted and sad. I wondered why we had not heard about this from the town council.
Three days ago the lights went on, banners were erected on the side of the road, announcing, “Now Open!” and “Open 24 Hours A Day!” A huge, towering sign was erected on the side of the freeway, a sentinel for our little town. There was only one letter on the giant sign- M. McDonald’s has opened in my town. The purveyors of pink slime burgers have been heating, wrapping, dipping french fries in hot oil non-stop since they opened. At any given time there are a minimum of 4 cars in the drive thru. I feel such disappointment. Now residents can get their Crappy Meals or buy meat in a can or TV dinners at Family Dollar. The food desert here has just gotten so much worse.