Here’s the real deal: Not everyone grows up within walking distance of a Whole Foods. And some of us grew up outside driving distance to a store with fresh veggies or fruit, too. Some people call this situation a “food desert.” But whatever you call it, it’s reality—and the closest thing some folks have to a grocery store is a liquor store. Areas where healthy, fresh food is hard to find usually disproportionately affect African-American communities and low-income neighborhoods.

People living in these areas are locked into the system of food injustice, because having to resort to processed meats and snacks puts them at higher risk for diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and strokes.

Into the (Food) Desert: Day 6 | Mark Bonica | CC BY 2.0 
Who profits from this?

We talk a lot about the power of your dollar as a consumer, because voting with your purchasing choices works! The more people demand vegan foods, the more companies meet that demand with tasty af supply. Nobody asked for food deserts or fast food. These things are forced onto poor people with less purchasing power. Who profits? The meat and dairy industries, fast food chains, and—once folks get sick—Big Pharma.

Why does this matter to animals?

While humans are getting sick from eating animal flesh and processed foods, billions of animals are forced to live on filthy factory farms, before being violently killed, chopped up, and sold as “food.” More than 3,000 animals are slaughtered every second for their flesh. Bottom line: Eating meat is completely unnecessary, and it harms both humans and animals.

Pigs crowded in factory farm

Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals 

Together, we can work to combat food injustice for all.

Everyone can be vegan—even in a neighborhood that makes it tough, and it’s often people in low-income communities that deserve food justice the most. Here are seven ways to survive thrive in a food desert:

1. Get familiar with staples. Many convenience stores and corner markets sell things like pasta, pasta sauce, and sometimes even frozen veggies. If you live near a dollar store, you might be surprised by just how much you can find there on a budget. Beans, rice, tortillas, salsas, and more can be found at nearly every dollar store.

2. Look up programs that offer healthy food aid. There are several programs that help provide access to fresh foods in low-income neighborhoods. For example, the SNAP program means more and more local markets are accepting EBT cards and offering healthy foods covered by the program. Check out this site for more info.

3. Visit your closest co-op or farmer’s market. Keep an eye out for places that sell fresh foods in your neighborhood like co-ops or a local farmer’s market. A co-op is an organized food distribution outlet where the members get to pick what is sold. These are great places to buy fresh fruits and veggies. This might mean having to leave your neighborhood, but it’ll be worth it.

4. Start an urban garden at home. Starting a garden indoors with limited space is easier than ever, thanks to the internet. There are many channels on YouTube that demonstrate how to plant and sustain a thriving urban garden in planter pots, on window ledges, on balconies, and so on. For example, there are specific instructions online for how to plant an herb garden using the pockets of a plastic shoe holder that hangs on the back of a door!

5. Buy beans and whole grains in bulk. When you spot beans and whole-grain items, grab them. These are full of nutrients like protein and fiber, without the cholesterol and saturated fat found in meat. They’re super-affordable, too, and awesome for chili, tacos, and way more.

6. Visit your local store and ask for more nutritious food options. Ask the owner about stocking and carrying healthier vegan foods—like fresh fruits and veggies, healthy pasta sauces, and even vegan meats from brands like Gardein. You might be surprised by what you can get your local store to carry if you just ask.

7. Public transportation can open new worlds. Live near a bus line? Take a day trip to find the closest Target or Big Lots, or look for a health food store near a local college campus (many accept SNAP). Research ideas for nutritious meals that you can make at home, and stock up for the month.

Now that you’re in the know, what are you going to do about it? Speak up!

Why is this important? Systemic oppression is nuanced and reinforced in a lot of different ways, including through inequitable food systems. You can be a force for positive change in your community by demanding better conditions for humans and animals.