Why are food deserts and crime hot spots co-located?

Good luck to grocer Jeff Mauer, owner and operator of the Freshmobile, a 40-foot refrigerated truck trailer that brings food to places like Meadowood, Hammersley Road, and Allied Drive on Madison’s Southwest Side – places that don’t have a full-service food supermarket within easy walking distance.

Madison calls them “food deserts.”

Like a Good Eats version of the venerable bookmobile, Mauer trucks fresh vegetables and fruit into areas suffused with Ho Hos, Slim Jims, six-packs, burgers, and fries – but lacking romaine lettuce, strawberries, and whole-grain bread.

Patricia Schneider’s article in The Capital Times is a worthy read. But my old colleague is puzzled by “the paradoxical presence of food deserts in an affluent city like Madison.”

Good nutrition indeed does enable better behavior. Bill Cosby has been talking up better diets. But may I suggest that the reverse is also true?

Indeed, a huge Cub Foods warehouse-style grocery operated right across Verona Road from Allied Drive for only two years before it closed in 2007. A U-Haul franchise occupies the space today. Cub Foods succumbed to the same fate suffered by a large SuperSaver on the Allied Drive side of the road before it. A store employee told me then that the supermarket could not sustain the constant pilferage. Supermarkets have one of the narrowest profit margins in retailing.

There are food deserts in these neighborhoods because those neighborhoods are plagued by rampant crime. That includes the just-short-of-criminal, anti-social behavior sometimes called “quality of life issues.” Who would choose to run the gauntlet of F-bombs when they can load their SUV in more hospitable climes?

Yes, there are other areas colored in the red of the food desert map in The Capital Times piece – primarily on the rapidly growing fringes of the city inhabited by two-car families who have no problem loading up the fridge. Compare the food deserts with this Madison Police crime map:

Please note that this map includes only the most serious crime: homicide (designed by an H in the map), robbery (R), breaking and entry (B), theft (T), sexual assault (S), assault with a deadly weapon (A), car theft (V), and theft from a vehicle (TV). I omitted all property crimes, quality of life complaints, and things like vandalism, graffiti, and public drunkenness so the map wouldn’t be too cluttered. The inverted pyramids with the human outline designate registered sex offenders. (Check out your own neighborhood here.)

Pat Schneider quotes Mayor Paul Soglin as saying, “We sit in one of the richest agricultural counties in the United States and yet we don’t have a food policy.”

So that’s it! No food policy!

Devise one if you must, call it what you will, but stuff the cavity of your policy with a healthy dose of crime prevention.

The blue blanket thrown over the southwest side two years ago merely squeezed the balloon; the north side is now plagued with the shootings.

Says the police captain for the north side, “[The] fallout from three homicides and several other shootings have put such a stress on staff that duties normally given to detectives are being handed over to patrol officers. … Investigating some smaller incidents, including financial and property crimes, have been on hold because there’s nobody around to do the work.” (Full report here.)

Significantly, the Northport Drive area, too, is food desert.

Remembering the important things in life

We reprint these words of wisdom, source unknown, as a public service.

One day a woman's husband died, and on that clear, cold morning, in the warmth of their bedroom, the wife was struck with the pain of realization that sometimes there isn't "any more."

No more hugs, no more special moments to celebrate together, no more phone calls just to chat, no more "just one minute."

Sometimes, what we care about the most gets all used up and goes away, never to return before we can say good-bye, say "I love you."

So while we have it, it's best we love it, care for it, fix it when it's broken and heal it when it's sick.

This is true for marriage, and old cars, and children with bad report cards, and dogs with bad hips, and aging parents and grandparents. We keep them because they are worth it, because we are worth it.

Some things we keep – like a best friend who moved away or a sister-in-law after divorce. There are just some things that make us happy, no matter what.

Life is important, like people we know who are special. And so, we keep them close!

Suppose one morning you never wake up, do all your friends know you love them?

Important thing is to let every one of your friends know you love them, even if you think they don't love you back.

I thought of this when I said good morning to the Lovely Lisa. I told her that just in case I do not live to greet another morning to vote for Romney.

(H/T Duane)

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