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Markets and Food Equity

Dr Chris Laing introduces the idea of food equity, and gives an overview of how food is traded in the market.
Farmers markets are a sustainable alternative to buying food from supermarkets.
© University of Exeter

The benefits of a commodity that is supplied globally are obvious to many but it is important to point out that not everyone can access these.

Food Equity reflects on the problem that access to fresh, healthy food produce is not unanimous between all populations, and that some communities do not have access to basic nutrition. Research has found that often in lower income communities, there is a higher dependence on low-nutrition convenience foods, and a lack of access to fresh food with high nutritional benefits [1].

In communities across the globe, farmers markets are being encouraged as a method of producing food equity. By avoiding the added packaging, transportation and marketing costs associated the supermarket industry, farmers markets can sell local, fresh, healthy produce at a lower cost, making it more accessible to lower income communities. On top of this, the reduction in time from field to table in these circumstances means that fruit and vegetables hold more nutritional value than those that have been transported and stored for long periods of time.

Across America, several studies have trialled farmers markets in collaboration with food stamps, for those living in low income communities. These trials have had huge successes at boosting food equity and knowledge around the benefits of healthy, fresh food [2]. However these trials also highlighted the need for strong support from local policymakers for this system to be equitable for all involved. A further consideration is that farmers themselves are also under considerable economic pressure as the value of their products falls. As such, there is a tendency for farmers markets to sell direct at markets in more affluent areas where they can make larger profit on their produce. This can mean that low income communities still miss out.

Research to date calls for careful planning and assistance from policymakers, to ensure that local food can be made equitable to both consumers and producers.

References

  1. Morland K, Wing S, Diez Roux A, Poole C. Neighborhood characteristics associated with the location of food stores and food service places. Am J Prev Med. 2002; 22(1): 23-29.

  2. Lowery B, Sloane D, Payán D, Illum J, Lewis L. Do Farmers’ Markets Increase Access to Healthy Foods for All Communities? Comparing Markets in 24 Neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Journal of the American Planning Association. 2016; 82(3):252-266. Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/01944363.2016.1181000

© University of Exeter
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