I’m one of the lucky ones.
Even as my grocery bill inched up, my family has thus far been able to adjust. Goldfish crackers? Sorry, Charlie. The same goes for other prepackaged convenience foods we previously enjoyed.
Brand loyalties are out, too. Like many households, we’re shifting to cheaper store brands where we can and leaning heavily on store sales. Where menus were previously planned around palates, the midweek sale papers dictate what we’ll eat.
I’m lucky that I live in an area of Ascension Parish rich with grocery stores and I have reliable transportation to get to them. I can shop sales at several stores and come back with a somewhat balanced trunkful of groceries and maybe even a few treats.
Last year, the USDA launched an interactive website that highlights “food deserts,” defined as low-income census tracts where a substantial number of residents have low access to a large supermarket or a grocery store. Low income means the area has a poverty rate of 20 percent or higher or median family income is at or below 80 percent of overall median family income. Low access means at least 500 people and or at least 30 percent of the tract’s population lives more than a mile from a supermarket or large grocery store. For rural areas, that distance increases to 10 miles.
I’m not classified as low income nor do I live in a food desert.
But for huge swaths of the Baton Rouge area, that’s not true. Looking at the map is sobering. Basically everything west of Highland Road and south of I-10 in East Baton Rouge Parish is defined as a food desert. So are parts of north Baton Rouge and a section just east of Cortana Mall. If you click on a section, the site spits out a stomach-churning litany of statistics.
Take the tract bounded on the north by I-10, on the east by East Boulevard, the west by the Mississippi River and on the south by a dogleg from McClung Street to Van Buren Street. For the unfamiliar, it’s the area between LSU and I-10, just south of downtown.
The map says 2,004 people call that tract home. It has a 100 percent low-access rate. Almost 40 percent of those people are children. Eleven percent are elderly.
That means that going to get food takes planning — how to pay for it, how to get there to pay for it, how to get it home. Imagine this. It’s August and 98 degrees with stifling humidity. You’d like to get the ingredients to make the cheese grits recipe that runs with this column. It’s a great recipe that feeds a crowd quickly and it’s pretty inexpensive.
First step, planning to get to the store. Do you walk more than a mile there and the same back? Will the ingredients you purchase, like the bacon and the milk, spoil in the heat? Can you carry such a load back without breaking the eggs?
If you ride the bus, will you be able to manage the bags of groceries? Will they survive the wait in the heat for the bus to come? What if it rains? Where are you going to find all this time?
I don’t have to make those decisions, and probably most of you don’t either. We’re lucky.
Hopefully, one day soon, everyone in the Capitol City will share our fortune.