Food for Thought: Teen Perspectives on Scarcity and Abundance

June 12–July 28, 2019

Food deserts, as defined by the American Nutrition Association, are areas of the country, usually impoverished, that are lacking an adequate supply of fresh fruits, vegetables, and other healthy whole foods. In the United States, an estimated 23.5 million people, of whom 750,000 are New Yorkers, live in food deserts.

Furthermore, 2.3 million Americans either do not own a car or live more than one mile from a supermarket, limiting their access to healthy food options, and making it particularly challenging for anyone with dietary restrictions like gluten allergies or lactose intolerance.

In recent years, there has been a growing number of government and community initiatives aimed at improving nutrition in food deserts and making healthy food more accessible in underserved urban and rural areas. Some popular initiatives include the Let’s Move! campaign, launched in 2010 by former first lady Michelle Obama, and local farmers’ markets that bring fresh produce directly from farms to communities.

In April 2019, 12 HRM Junior Docents teamed up with the Cooperstown Graduate Program to explore the subject of food deserts in the Greater New York area and the risks they pose to people’s health, including diabetes and obesity. Junior Docents then learned how to take evocative photographs in an engaging lesson taught by Brooklyn-based photographer Stephen Michael Joyce at the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum in the Inwood neighborhood in Manhattan.

The result of this meaningful discussion, workshop, and collaboration was Junior Docents’ documentation of the cultural and social connections among food, people, and community in Inwood. Capturing the culture and memory of Inwood’s weekly farmers’ markets and well-stocked supermarkets, these photographs highlight how stores combat the blight of food deserts while exposing people to new recipes and traditions.These photographs are also a call to action, shedding light on how we can break down barriers to food access and improve nutrition in low income areas. Food deserts are all around us and closer than we think. As you walk around your own neighborhood, consider how you can aid the local challenge against food deserts. As you view the evocative photographs, become immersed in the teens’ written accounts and learn what inspired them.

Brayan Garcia, 2019.