Minorities mostly hunger in ‘food deserts’: Study

A GTA nutritionist believes that areas of Toronto are what some describe as food wastelands.

The theory of areas in Canada not having access to nutritional foods was the main focus of a lecture on April. 3 held at Ryerson University.

Dr. Samina Raja addressed a conference on Designing and Planning for Agriculture. She along with her colleagues from the University of Buffalo conducted a study of food environments in Erie County, New York. They defined some urban areas as “food deserts.”

Guy Beaumont, a nutritionist who works with obese children, believes the same may be true in communities in Toronto.

“I used to live in Regent Park and when it came to groceries, it was hard to find foods with high nutritional value,” he said. “Instead there [was] pizza parlours, burger joints and corner stores…I had to shop outside of my own neighbourhood.”

Beaumont said he’s lived in both low-income city housing and in the suburbs. He recognized the difference when it came to shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables.

“It wasn’t until I moved out of the city (to Whitby) where I could get fresh foods and that’s exactly what I tried to instill in the families I work with,” he said.

Dr. Raja explained that the access to different types of food retail outlets, in primarily minority neighbourhoods, differs from that in predominantly white neighbourhoods.

Although her study took place in Fort Erie, N.Y., she believes this is a problem that goes beyond borders and can also include diverse cities such as Toronto.

“Access to fresh foods is worse for low-income and minority neighbourhoods,” she said.

“And when the quality of food in a community is poor, the residents are vulnerable to hunger and more susceptible to diet-related diseases like heart disease, obesity and diabetes.”

Kathy Thompson, 27, is a student at Ryerson University studying Urban Agriculture and its affects on modern society.

“Having the chance to listen to her speak makes one think of the many ways our health may be at risk simply by where we choose to live,” she said.

Dr. Raja said finally that there was an absence of supermarkets that produce fresh foods in neighbourhoods of colour when compared to white neighbourhoods.

However, her study also revealed a comprehensive network of small neighbourhoods of colour.  Supporting small, high quality grocer stores, rather than soliciting large supermarkets, she said may be a more effective strategy for ensuring access to healthy foods in neighbourhoods of colour in Toronto.

Filed by Matthew Cohen