Searching for a healthy oasis in a food desert

A map of the Athen's food desert. Photo credit: The U.S. Department of Agriculture

A map of the Athen’s food desert. Photo credit: The U.S. Department of Agriculture

Imagine craving candied pecans. They are utterly unavailable without a car. Not only can students not meet specific cravings, but they also are left with sparse resources for a multitude of other healthy food items, such as vegetables. A student attempting to eat a healthy diet by consuming whole foods is completely out of luck.

Ohio University is a food desert and the majority of campus suffers. A “food desert” is a zone where little affordable and healthy food exists and is not easily accessible to the population.

Currently, the United States Department of Agriculture recognizes the majority of campus as a food desert zone. The campus’ three markets, CVS and occasional farmers’ market are the only ways to buy food within walking distance for many students. OU is currently attempting to battle the problem.

Ohio University Culinary Services strives to not only provide a variety of quality food options to the student population, but to make these options easily accessible as well,” Dan Pittman, assistant director of OU auxiliary sales, said.

Culinary Services ensures that students have access to various dining options; the campus is flooded with already prepared options. Baker Center offers West 82, Latitude 39 and he Front Room, all areas that students can use Flex Points or Bobcat Cash to purchase different food items. That list, paired with the availability of restaurants up town, is not enough.

In order to  fight  the food desert, Culinary Services renovated Nelson Dining Hall and gave students the first market to buy fresh produce. The new addition set a landmark achievement in the world of dining hall markets.

“Fresh fruit sales (at Nelson) have been immensely popular, and we continue to restock our shelves on a near-daily basis,” Pittman said.

However, even with the revamped market, some students still feel a lack in their daily nutrition intake.

“It is hard to get anything but fast food…I think it is hard to find nutrition at all,” sophomore Kelli Oliver said.

Busy Day Market on Stimson Avenue also offers fresh local food, but the market is a far distance from many dorms. Students often have to go the extra mile and spend the extra cash to live a healthy lifestyle.

Campus market prices are generally overpriced compared to the local Kroger’s. Nelson’s market sells 24 bottles of water at $9.05 whereas Kroger sells a comparable item at $2.99. Also, Nelson market offers an 8-count of Poptarts for $3.89 in which Kroger sells a box of 12 Poptarts for $3.09.

In addition, students without Flex meal plans commonly avoid using the market to save money.

“I just do dining halls or what I get from the grocery stores. I make my mom come down. I  just live 20 minutes away,” sophomore Matt Weaver explained.

The closest large-scale grocery stores, Kroger and Wal-Mart, are located about 3 miles away. Though not the most convenient, students make do with the resources available. Without cars, some students alternatively bike or run the distance, leaving them without options in the winter.

“When I ride my bike to Wal-Mart, I just throw stuff in my backpack. I can take three 2-liters and milk,” sophomore Tyler Lucas said.

While the first step to solving the issue has been made, there is still  a long way to go. The next step will include convenient prices and another large-scale store closer to campus.

Where do YOU shop for healthy foods? Tell us in the comments!

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