Last fall I wrote a blog post about a woman in Chicago, LaDonna Redmond, who is addressing the food desert problem there by offering produce from urban farms at a market called Graffiti and Grub. Now, according to The New York Times, the drugstore chain, Walgreens, is selling an expanded selection of food–including fresh fruits and vegetables–at 10 Chicago locations selected because they were in food deserts.
Food deserts are usually in low-income urban neighborhoods laden with fast-food restaurants and convenience stores selling processed food. There is rarely a produce market because residents in food deserts “are not providing enough profit to be offered more healthful grub,” says The Times.
A study done in Chicago by Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group showed the city’s food desert boundaries and linked block-by-block grocery-access data to food deserts. The study got the attention of Chicago politicians, resulting in a request to Walgreens from Mayor Richard Daley’s office.
While a drugstore may not seem like the obvious solution to food deserts, they are ubiquitous, making them good candidates. About 25% of the participating Walgreens stores’ square footage is now dedicated to food. And other drugstore chains, such as Duane Reade and CVS, are now offering more healthful choices in food.
The Times said that Gallagher’s goal, ultimately, is to increase choice. “She is less concerned about purging food deserts of fast food or other processed-sustenance options than she is with adding more healthful options to the menu.” The Walgreens experiment provides an oasis of fresh food where none existed before.