Lawmakers discuss food deserts

The General Assembly's Interim Study Committee on Government met recently at the Statehouse to learn about the issue of food deserts in Indiana.

Dan Carden, The Times

Mankind has accomplished incomparable wonders in making desert regions inhabitable by channeling in sources of fresh water.

Ingenuity in both infrastructure and technology is to thank for this often unheralded human feat.

Now leaders throughout our state wisely are attempting to channel ingenuity into satiating human needs in another type of desert.

We encourage the Indiana General Assembly and other Hoosier leaders to discuss and weigh multiple options for feeding the food deserts in our state.

Food deserts are defined by the federal government as areas in which at least 20 percent of residents live in poverty and a third live at least a mile away from a supermarket, if it's an urban neighborhood, or more than 10 miles away in rural areas.

Significant portions of northern Lake and LaPorte counties already are classified as food deserts. More Region census tracts are likely to qualify once federal data is updated to reflect the recent closure and consolidation of numerous Northwest Indiana grocery stores.

We also know proper nutrition — including regular fruits and vegetables — is a major struggle of people of low economic means. Some of that is cost, but lack of access to fresh produce also is a major contributor.

We're glad to see an interim study committee of the Indiana General Assembly taking up this crucial issue.

The committee already has discussed and heard testimony on various ideas, including improving mass transit so people in underserved areas can travel to grocery stores, a state push to provide more fruits and vegetables to urban and rural food banks, and subsidies for the construction of grocery stores in qualifying food deserts.

The breadth of this problem requires the consideration of multiple ideas, not just one. A bill that would have provided subsidies for grocery store construction in underserved areas died in the Indiana House last legislative session.

But the ability for such businesses to succeed long-term in the underserved areas also must be weighed before such public investments are made.

The state is right to weigh multiple options in a quest to assuage food deserts. We look forward to watching progress on this important issue of public health and quality of life.

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Members of The Times Editorial Board are Publisher Christopher T. White, Editorial Page Editor Marc Chase, Editor Bob Heisse, Politics/History Editor Doug Ross and Managing Editor Erin Orr.