Confronting Food Deserts

Catherine McGeeney (FL '14), director of development, Coalition for the Homeless

Catherine McGeeney (FL ’14), director of development, Coalition for the Homeless

by Catherine McGeeney, Focus Louisville April 2014 —

At the start of my April Focus Louisville experience, participants were invited to introduce ourselves by saying one thing we love about Louisville. I love many things about my hometown, but what I said was “I love that in my neighborhood, I can walk to two farmers’ markets.” And it’s true — every Saturday morning, my husband and our two young sons are just a five minute walk from a fresh breakfast, live music and local vegetables.

After introductions, my Focus Louisville class was led on an entertaining tour by Dr. Tom Owen, historian and city councilman. Upon completing our walk downtown, we boarded a bus, crossed I-65 and drove through several West End neighborhoods. We listened to Dr. Owen’s accounts of city planning and the history of deeply-entrenched poverty. We saw beautiful old houses that were proudly maintained — and others that were boarded up, spray-painted and abandoned.

As we drove through one of the poorer neighborhoods, Dr. Owen reminded us that, like in many poor areas, there aren’t any grocery stores; rather, residents have to buy their food from convenience stores and fast food restaurants. Areas like this are referred to as “food deserts” — places where there’s limited access to healthy and affordable food.

Immediately, I was confronted by what I had said that morning: my accessibility to two farmers’ markets is part of why I love this city. I looked out the window at another neighborhood, just as much Louisville as mine — one where there’s no fresh food in walking distance, one where some mothers don’t feel safe walking with their kids for five minutes in any direction. I had somehow lost sight of my privilege and taken for granted my access to healthy food and safe shelter.

During two and a half packed and thoughtful days, my classmates and I immersed ourselves in the issues Louisville faces. We visited nonprofits, talked with community leaders and started to ask questions about what we’d encountered. We couldn’t claim to have answers ourselves, but our eyes were opened to the depth of inequality — and to the promise of hope when our citizens are engaged.

My Focus Louisville experience was such a gift. It engaged me on a deep level and launched me on a journey toward compassionate citizenship. In the process, it introduced me to an impressive and committed group of colleagues whose experiences and viewpoints broadened my own. For all of this, I am so grateful.