What’s in a Word?

What should we  call areas in the country where healthy foods are at a minimum?  “Food desert” may be most commonly known, but is misleading as food often is available, it just may be of a lesser quality (think mealy tomatoes or wilted lettuce) or of questionable nutritional value (think chips, soda, and fast food).  Likewise, those who bristle at that term think that “desert” may imply a permanent, unchangeable state.  “Food swamps” was proposed as an alternative, but that, too, has been seen as charged and pejorative.  Food swamps describe areas where unhealthy foods outnumber healthy foods by a count of four to one.

Baltimore came up with an  alternative term: “healthy food priority area“.  I can’t help but roll my eyes at that one as it takes any charge that was intended to shock, motivate, or reform out of the term entirely.

I recently read this amazing article called “Food apartheid: the root of the problem with America’s groceries“.  Food activist Karen Washington uses the term “food apartheid” to purposefully bring up the discomfort that the term evokes. She wants us to grapple with the racism and institutionalized inequality that the word inspires.

I am on board.

I am of the school of thought that we should use the term “impoverished” instead of “poor” to demonstrate that a structure is in place that is doing the impoverishment.  Likewise, at a previous job, we tried to use the term “starving” instead of “malnourished” to evoke a reaction of a sense of unfairness and urgency.

What terms do you wish to see banished from our development and public health lexicons? Don’t get me started on “empowerment”!

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