House committee gets lesson in food deserts

A house committee studying “food deserts” met for the first time Monday afternoon in Raleigh to get educated about the issue.

Food deserts are urban and rural areas where residents have limited access to healthy, affordable foods. Researchers see a connection between the lack of access to those foods and the rate of obesity and chronic diseases among people who live in such areas.

“I had no idea what a food desert was until Rep. Holley brought it to my attention,” said Rep. Edgar Starnes, a Republican from Caldwell County and a committee co-chair, at the start of the meeting.

Rep. Yvonne Lewis Holley, a Wake Democrat, introduced a bill last year to provide tax incentives to businesses that sell healthy foods in designated food desert zones.

“This all started when I lost two grocery stores in my community,” Holley explained.

A year ago, Kroger closed two Raleigh stores, one on New Bern Avenue and one on Martin Luther King Boulevard. In February, Carlie C’s opened in the New Bern Avenue location but neighbors near the other former Kroger remain without a grocery store.

Holley gave credit to House Speaker Thom Tillis for agreeing to convene the special house committee to study the issue.

The members got quite an education Monday hearing from officials connected with public health, social services, agriculture, economic development and local food systems.

An estimated 400,000 residents in 57 N.C. counties live in food deserts, according to a Duke University study cited by Rep. Chris Whitmire, a committee co-chair and Republican lawmaker who represents Henderson, Polk and Transylvania counties.

The committee will next meet at 1 p.m. Feb. 24 in the Legislative Office Building.

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