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Food financing

The Obama administration unveiled the details of a new program today that's designed to tackle the problem of food "deserts." Not desserts. Deserts.

Michelle Obama and administration officials including Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner were in Philadelphia to announce The Healthy Food Financing Initiative:

The Healthy Food Financing Initiative will promote a range of interventions that expand access to nutritious foods, including developing and equipping grocery stores and other small businesses and retailers selling healthy food in communities that currently lack these options. Residents of these communities, which are sometimes called "food deserts" and are often found in economically distressed areas, are typically served by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer little or no fresh produce. Lack of healthy, affordable food options can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

The administration hopes to eliminate food deserts within 7 years through a mix of tax credits, low-rate loans and grants to attract investors and businesses from the private sector. Projects will include building or expanding grocery stores in poor communities and getting fresh produce in smaller outlets like convenience stores. The USDA has created a Food Atlas, which shows where the food deserts are located. The Treasury, the Agriculture Department and Health and Human Services are collaborating on the initiative:

"It's been a tough year for America, but for our middle class and distressed communities it's been a tough decade," said Secretary Geithner. "We're here to make sure that in America, where a child grows up doesn't determine whether they have access to a better--healthier--future. By introducing powerful incentives for private investors to take a chance on projects - like a new, healthier grocery store - we can make that difference for America's children, while creating new jobs and services in their communities."

Geithner and the First Lady visited a Fresh Grocer in North Philly that just opened in December. A state initiative similar to the Obama plan helped make the store possible:

"This is one of the proudest moments of my life to have the first lady standing behind my mission," said Burns, owner the area's 10 Fresh Grocer stores (eight in Philadelphia, one in Upper Darby and one in Wilmington) after the visit. "She's a mom. She food shops. She gets it."

Burns described his story as "the thread of the community. It gives healthy alternatives at affordable prices."

Neighborhood resident Fred Tookes challenged Burns's view of the store. He claimed that whites had management positions while African Americans held the lower level jobs. "People can't afford to shop here," said Tookes. "People get excited about all of the hoopla. But, when Mrs. Obama leaves today, nothing is gonna change."

Do you agree -- that nothing's gonna change? Or do you see this as the kind of thing the government should be doing?

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So at the same time BO's claiming he's going to fix the defecit he's finding new ways to spend even more money?

This is a “supply side” answer to poor nutrition. But supply does not create its own demand. Effectively nudge the demand side and the market will take care of supply. First, tax on substances known to systematically cause chronic ill health just as is done with tobacco and alcohol. There are there key substances: fats, salt and sugar. Second, ban food advertising from TV just as alcohol and tobacco are.

I think the prices for the "good" foods are too expensive. Eating a 3.00 broccoli head that doesn't keep well is very different then eating 1.25 pop-tart. However, I do agree with you that a shift in prices won't change demand. Fat, sugar, and salt give more flavor then anything nutritious, so breaking demand would be torture to some.

Sounds like the emphasis here is on improving fresh food access in cities like St. Louis.
I'd like to see USDA get serious about addressing food deserts in rural America. Middle America has innumerable small towns where a farmer or rancher can fuel his equipment (diesel) or self (beer from the Main Street bar), but can't pick up any groceries at all.
Farming and ranching are flourishing, but virtually all grocery chains have abandoned rural towns. Area residents, many of whom qualify as low-income, have to drive an hour or longer for fresh groceries. That's a significant expense, in gas money, emissions and time. I'm sure many people try to get by on whatever will keep in the freezer.

"BO" could take the money the government uses to subsidize corn growers and fund this project. Ensuring a healthy source of food for the population is a wise investment in our future.

It's funny to me that people think farmers are getting rich off of farm subsidies. Subsidies keep the prices of grain low so that people can eat. It would be great to eat veggies all day, but they are harder to grow than grains. It appears once again the government has made another bubble by encouraging the cheapest, least nutritious food source available.

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