Opinion | Access to food is a national problem. Here’s how to fix it:

Our efforts to help Americans eat healthier don’t end with food distribution. A 2019 study found that more than 1,000 supermarkets opened in food desert regions between 2004 and 2016, but residents in these areas often do not buy the fresher, healthier foods that are newly available. There were many. For households with limited incomes and the need to buy in bulk to save money, expensive and perishable raw meats, fruits and vegetables can overwhelm their budgets.

However, there are ways to mitigate these obstacles. A first step could be to encourage more farmers markets and other fresh food suppliers to accept electronic benefits from food assistance programs. Government agencies, nonprofits, and charities can encourage farmers’ market shopping by implementing programs that “match” the money households spend at farmers markets.

Similar to sugar and soda taxes, benefits targeting fruits and vegetables could help. Some have criticized these policies as paternalistic and ineffective. But the reality is that the United States has long subsidized unhealthy food, and the effects are permanent. it needs to change. Finally, nutrition education programs, including schools, help people develop healthier habits and become familiar with inexpensive local produce.

For many Americans, the pandemic and the Ukraine war were a rude wake-up call to supply chain disruptions and soaring food prices. Yet millions of people have endured these conditions for years with little recourse. Looking ahead, federal, state, local and nonprofit leaders will need to build on the momentum on food access that began during the pandemic. This is a unique opportunity for the community to introduce new policies, innovate and set the course for the better.

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