What is a Food Swamp?

The Lempert Report
July 26, 2023

We've all heard about food deserts, but now there's a new phrase out there called 'food swamps'. What's a food swamp and why should we be concerned?

Sally: Right, like food deserts filled these areas have very few healthy food options, or no healthy food options, or a supermarket within a reasonable distance, particularly when there is no public transportation. It needs to be within a walkable distance, but in addition, they have many takeaway stores or convenience places to get food, where we're overloaded with unhealthy food options that aren't coming from a fresh food market.

Phil: So what's interesting to me? There's a new study from Augusta University in Georgia. They studied 3,038 counties in the US. That represent 96.7% of the United States, And those with high rates of obesity related cancer deaths had a greater fraction of older people, black residents and low income families, higher rates of diabetes and obesity. And guess what? People who live in food swamps are 30% more likely to die from obesity related cancers. So I guess the question that we really have to address here is we know that this exists. We know it exists in food deserts now, food swamps. What do we do about it? I mean, that's the biggest problem because supermarkets especially if you look at what happened in Chicago when Ron Manuel was the mayor, he brought in just about every supermarket CEO asked them to open up stores. They did. It didn't work. We're starting to see more large supermarkets. Walmart has pulled out of Chicago. What we find is Whole Foods closed their banner store in San Francisco because of crime. They weren't able to maintain a good business there. So the question is how do we combat this very serious problem? And I think that what we really need to do, because we can't say, okay, these people can order online because some of them don't have smartphones. Some of them don't have a place where they can get these foods. The question is how can we induce companies to go into these food swamps and help people?

Sally: Yes, absolutely, And I think this is also one of those situations where we really need to focus on our local leadership, on your local councils, and what you can do to create and improve your neighborhoods to make them more walkable for people. Community gardens are also another great way that some people are addressing this. We just talked about on the show last week about a charter school that has created a whole way of growing food within a container at their school and they're providing food to their community in that way. So I think that we have to look at our local leadership. your council members, your mayor and the community has to come together and find ways to attract these businesses to come in and bring these better food options. But also, let's put in some sidewalks. Let's make the community easier to navigate.

Phil: And also let's give them some incentives to open up these stores. That's something that Jeff Brown was able to get from the federal government in Philadelphia and he's been very effective and the stores are open and he's doing great and the community is doing great. So there are models out there that can make it work.