Is Access to Healthy Food a Basic Human Right?

Is access to healthy food a basic human right?
That's the question being asked by California Governor Jerry Brown.

Not just food, but healthy food.
Food access is a right. That one has been with us since 1948, the result of the experience of the Second World War. At the end of that war, vowing that the world would never again see such suffering, the international community created the United Nations and drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Among the various protections, guarantees, and liberties is the individual's right to food.

Back in 1948, nobody thought to specify the type of food. When those words were written, the Big Mac was just a gleam in Roy Kroc's eye, and the Colonel had yet to fry his first chicken. Who could have imagined a time when nutrition would be so divorced from food that malnutrition could go hand-in-hand with obesity?
This is the paradox of modern-day poverty.

It's like the line in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink
.
Millions of Americans are adrift in a sea of junk food. They are surrounded by cheap and abundant processed foods, with little access to healthy foods. This landscape has been dubbed 'food deserts,' to describe low-income communities with plenty of processed foods at convenience stores and fast food outlets, but little or no fresh food, and the nearest supermarket is one mile away if it's an urban community, and 10 miles away if it's rural.

The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that this is a reality for more than 20 million Americans, and 1.7 million of them are living in California. The bill on Governor Brown's desk would create the California Healthy Food Financing Initiative. It enables the state to collaborate with public, private, and philanthropic entities to bring loan and grant financing to the under-served neighborhoods. The goal is to encourage existing businesses to expand their healthier offerings, and to attract grocery stores, food cooperatives, farmers’ markets, and other fresh food retailers.

Is access to high quality food a basic human right?
The State Assembly and the Senate in California think so; in fact they have thought so twice. The previous governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was inclined to believe that healthy food is a privilege earned by the state's wealthier residents who own cars or live within striking distance of farmers markets; last year he vetoed a similar bill after it passed both houses of the legislature. Once again, it sits on the governor's desk where it is a signature away from becoming law.

Find out where they are: the Economic Research Service of the USDA created a Food Desert Locator based on census tract-level data.

The Food Environment Atlas lets you go deeper into a community's statistics, looking at factors like restaurant expenditures and meals cooked at home.

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