Retail Inequality: Reframing the Food Desert Debate (U California Press, 2021) examines the failure of recent efforts to improve Americans’ diets by increasing access to healthy food. Based on exhaustive research, this book by Kenneth H. Kolb documents the struggles of two Black neighborhoods in Greenville, South Carolina. For decades, outsiders ignored residents’ complaints about the unsavory retail options on their side of town—until the well-intentioned but flawed “food desert” concept took hold in popular discourse. Soon after, new allies arrived to help, believing that grocery stores and healthier options were the key to better health. These efforts, however, did not change neighborhood residents’ food consumption practices. Retail Inequality explains why and also outlines the history of deindustrialization, urban public policy, and racism that are the cause of unequal access to food today. Kolb identifies retail inequality as the crucial concept to understanding today’s debates over gentrification and community development. As this book makes clear, the battle over food deserts was never about food—it was about equality.
Stephen Pimpare is director of the Public Service & Nonprofit Leadership program and Faculty Fellow at the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire.
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