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Food Deserts In Chicago Reportedly Down 40 Percent

Farmers Market

First Posted: 10/25/11 10:36 AM ET Updated: 10/25/11 01:31 PM ET

With First Lady Michelle Obama slated to appear in Chicago Tuesday for a fundraising event focused on addressing the city's food desert problem, a leading researcher reported that the city has recorded recent improvements on the matter.

Mari Gallagher's new report [PDF], released Monday, indicates that, over the past five years, the number of Chicagoans living in food deserts has declined almost 40 percent, as WBEZ reports. Still, Gallagher said, the city has "a long way to go."

The food desert problem persists largely on the city's South and West Sides, predominantly African-American neighborhoods, where access to grocery stores, farmers markets or other vendors selling fresh, high-quality, affordable food is either limited or nonexistent.

Chicago's current food desert population is estimated to be 384,000 -- almost a third of which are children. According to Gallagher, "that's a lot of children -- roughly the size of Naperville."

"If all of those children loaded onto school buses, the buses would line up bumper-to-bumper from President Obama's house in Hyde Park, make a stop at City Hall and travel on to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's house in Ravenswood," a distance of 17 miles, Gallagher continued in the report.

Gallagher further argues that the federal food stamp program, the USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), should institute standards to encourage its users to buy healthy and fresh foods, as the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

Mayor Emanuel has long pledged to make fresh foods more accessible to all Chicago communities. In September, City Council approved a zoning code amendment that Emanuel supported in order to help the spread of urban farms in the city. The mayor has also pushed for retail chains like Walmart to play a pivotal role in improving the food available to many Chicagoans.

Photo by swanksalot via Flickr.

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First lady Michelle Obama eats a piece of broccoli as she sits down to eat with students during their visit to New Hampshire Elementary School, Mexican First Lady Margarita Zavala, not shown, Wednesday, May 19, 2010, in Silver Spring, Md. The school, which was awarded the USDA's Healthier US School Challenge Silver Award in 2009, serves more than 400 Pre-K, Head Start, first and second grade students, many who come from Central America, South America, and other countries. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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Filed by Joseph Erbentraut  |