Stop using food desert and other trendy terms

Stop using food desert and other trendy terms

Don’t call people’s communities food deserts. It is disparaging to their community, and it’s disparaging to the desert.

Deserts are natural. Deserts are beautiful. Deserts are needed.

The Earth’s modern deserts are a consequence of one of the following mechanisms:

  • Air mass subsidence which created the Sahara and Antarctica;
  • Rain shadows which created the (e.g., Mojave);
  • Distant moisture sources which created the (e.g., Gobi);
  • Cold offshore sea-surface temperatures which created the (e.g., Atacama).

We find copper, crystals, agave nectar, quartz, jade, and gold in our deserts.

Environmental writer Chris Clark said in the article “Why You Should Love the Desert” for KCET, “The deserts are some of the most intact and biodiverse ecosystems North America has to offer.”

The term food desert is not only disparaging to a community that has been purposely denied a resource by other humans, but it is also an inaccurate term for the desert. A desert is an abundant, diverse ecosystem that the Earth needs.

Catchy phrases are for corporations to sell electronic toys. We need to cease using catchy phrases to explain purposely cruel actions by humans against other humans.

Racist corporate supermarkets don’t build quality supermarkets in Black communities, because they think Black people aren’t worth anything.

That’s what their marketing department told them.

At about 12% of the U.S. population, African-Americans aren’t worth pretending to be interested in if catering to them doesn’t pay back tenfold

There is nothing beautiful or natural or necessary about that.

There is something very wrong with these trendy terms. These terms seem never to make the rich and those doing the oppressing look poorly. These catchy terms instead seem to assist in pathologizing oppressed people and the communities where they live. Terms like “Black body,””under-resourced,” and abbreviating cultures to a single letter e.g. BIPOC —do nothing, but narrow the already narrow view of Black, Chicano, Native American, and Puerto Rican people in metropolitan and rural life.

These terms also appear to have no reason when stated alone. Stand alone in conversation they are “just happenings.” People just happen to be in the ghetto. A community just happens to be an urban food desert.

I asked a young man once what he thought food desert meant. He answered, “Some effed up thing in the ghetto where Blacks and Mexicans live.”

After the grant cycle is over, the community is simply left with these sophisticated new racial slurs with slightly academic pedigrees. Ten years later, these terms mean something bad in communities where Black and Latino people live or something bad that Black and Latino people experience. And it is bad simply because Black and Latino people experience it.

Food desert, urban, single mothers are all slurs, and they are all pieces of lies.

Saying that deserts are barren wastelands of no value is a lie. Saying poverty is just a naturally occurring thing is a lie.

Grocery stores deliberately don’t build in Black communities. And when they come, they bring their lowest quality merchandise. These stores also have horrible service due to hiring the most skeleton of crews, even in top-grossing stores, and even in middle-class Black communities.

It’s not just about class. If it were just about class then more affluent Baldwin Hills would have had a Trader Joes, before middle-class Westchester.

Metropolitan Black communities, regardless of class, will never get access to the same quality grocery stores as their white counterparts until everyone stops lying. Stop using the term food desert. 

These lies are insulting and patronizing. The lies puts people in the mindset of an art show or a kid’s program. It results in piecemeal types solutions instead of fixing the actual problem.

The problem is racism and denial of equal economic access.

A more realistic term would be retail apartheid, where the quality of retail you get lessens depending on how much pigmentation you have in your skin.

But what what would be wonderful is if we could all stop trying to be so clever.

What is happening is that corporate grocery stores are systematically engaging in racist practices. That won’t fit on a flyer. It might not attract the same kind of audience for a TED Talk. But it is a very clear description of what is going on. It forces people to have a more truthful conversation.

Let us also believe that local Black businesses should get the same opportunities as out-of-state corporate grocery stores.

If a new development is opening, give the same tax incentives and grants that you would give to corporate America to main street America.

The Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood gave Madison Square Gardens $18 million.

Imagine what a local Black or Latino business could have done with that.

Or we could even think bigger that.

The community could have gotten together and bought land and opened a cooperative grocery store and cooperative housing. In order to begin to think on these levels we need to use terms that are truthful.

We need to stop entertaining the mirage of lies.


Teka Lo, Public Intellectuals

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