Editor’s Note: Elissa Barrett is the executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance. She joined us on Monday's American Morning as the Jewish holiday of Passover was set to begin, to discuss her organization’s work on the issue of ‘food deserts’ in Los Angeles.
By Elissa Barrett, Progressive Jewish Alliance
Tonight, Jewish families all over the world will gather around their Seder tables to celebrate the holiday of Passover. In our nation’s capital, President Obama will be hosting a Seder in the White House, recounting – as millions of others will be doing – the story of the liberation of Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.
On Passover we trace our path from oppression to redemption, from suffering to opportunity. As we recall our wandering through the desert on the way to freedom, our minds turn to those who are suffering today, to those still wandering the desert. The Progressive Jewish Alliance seeks solutions to repair injustices in our cities here and now, calling attention to the reality that millions of Americans live – unnecessarily – in "food deserts."
Food deserts are areas dominated by fast food restaurants, liquor stores and convenience stores with little or no access to fresh and healthy food. In a food desert, buying potato chips is easy, but buying a potato is hard.
Food deserts, unfortunately, exist at the intersection of race, class and geography. While 31% of white Americans live in a census tract with a supermarket, only 8% of black Americans do. The human costs of living in a food desert are high: inadequate nutrition leads to preventable diseases like obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Ending the plague of food deserts can produce healthy bodies, healthy economies and healthy communities. When supermarkets open in food deserts, they bring good jobs and living wages, providing an engine for economic growth in under-served areas. Recent store expansions in New York and Philadelphia have shown that supermarkets in food deserts can be both profitable and dramatically increase the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables among residents.
In Los Angeles, PJA supports a citywide policy to influence the expansion of the grocery industry into food deserts. We can bring healthy food and good jobs to those who need it most, and the grocery industry can do well by doing good.
At my Passover Seder tonight, I’ll be sharing this story with family and friends. We invite you to do the same at your table. On our website you can download our Food Desert Seder Plate for a unique addition to your Passover experience. Learn more and join the movement to transform food deserts at http://www.pjalliance.org.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Elissa Barrett.