Access to fresh food has never been such an important issue. Between “five a day”, Jamie’s school dinners and growing demand for allotments, we have never lived in a more health-conscious society. So why then are there parts of Sussex with little or no access to basic ingredients? TIM RIDGWAY reports on the rise of the “food desert”.
It may not look like the Sahara or the Gobi.
But this quiet residential council estate is classified as a desert, at least when it comes to food.
This is because its thousands of residents do not have easy access to fresh items on their doorstep.
But, with the growth of supermarkets and bigger edge of city stores, should we care?
Food growers certainly think so which is why they are leading a campaign to get more people growing and eating healthier, particularly in poorer areas.
Despite being a thriving and compact urban area, Brighton and Hove has its fair share of “food deserts”.
These include North Moulsecoomb, North Portslade and Bevendean, all areas with a high concentration of social housing.
Vic Borrill, director of Brighton and Hove Food Partnership, said: “Food desert is a term used to refer to areas of the city where there aren’t shops selling basic fresh ingredients, such as fruit, vegetables and bread, within walking distance. Or those that do have a poor selection and high price tag.
“Food deserts are often compounded by the availability of ‘unhealthy options’, such as pizza and kebab shops in the same neighbourhood.
“So the issues are associated with access – cost of getting to a supermarket by bus, problems in cold weather, problems for older people who rely on others to take them shopping.
“Access in terms of finances – the nearby unhealthy options are often much cheaper than the healthy ones.”
It does not take long to find the proof behind the claims.
Turn the clock back 50 years and the Moulsecoomb estate looked very different.
There used to be a thriving butchers and a popular greengrocers in the shopping parade in Barcombe Road, Brighton.
Now they have been replaced by a chip shop and a funeral parlour.
Within a mile of the centre of the estate, food options are limited to a bingo hall, a number of takeaways, a few convenience stores and a couple of cafés located on the fringes.
For those hoping to pick up a lettuce or a loaf of bread, they are faced with two-mile journey to Lewes Road, London Road or Asda in Hollingbury Dave Murtagh, chairman of the East Moulsecoomb Tenants and Residents’ Association, said: “The term desert is a bit strange. I think it’s just supply and demand.
“People did not use their local shops due to cost as it’s a lot cheaper to go to the supermarket.
“People can get vegetables delivered which does not work out too expensive.
“I would have thought any estate like ours would have the same problem around buying fresh food.”
But healthy eating champions claim the reason to tackle the issue food deserts is not just about supporting those on low incomes, but also to confront obesity and to become green.
Moves are already in place to change things.
Students in Moulsecoomb have formed a university based food co-operative which means for a few pounds a week they get a bag of fresh vegetables that they pick up at the campus.
xhead On Wednesday, school children and residents will start planting a community orchard in Woollard’s Field, Falmer, near to the site of The Keep archive centre.
It is one of more than 100 community growing projects in the city.
One of the more popular and rooted in the community is Moulsecoomb Forest Garden, which was set up in 1994.
It aims to offer horticultural, carpentry, woodland management, cooking, educational and social opportunities for those involved.
Warren Carter, its founder, said: “Our project isn’t just about gardening but plays an important part of the social glue that binds communities together, with all types of people, young and old, pupils having problems at school, people with learning difficulties working together in a safe and pleasant environment.”
Then there is The Bevy, a project to turn a pub with a troubled past into the first community-owned pub on an estate in the country.
As well as offering a place for people to drink, it also will offer community space and a kitchen to provide cut-price meals to locals.
But to be a success, these champions are aware it will take grassroots support to have a wider impact on society.
Talking point: To what extent do you feel there is limited choice when it comes to buying fresh food in Brighton? Are there too many take aways? Are we too reliant on supermarkets? Do you miss your old corner shop? Share your views by commenting below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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