Food Deserts, Obesity Rates and Tom Joyner

Tom Joyner's bus at my Walmart.
Tom Joyner's bus at my Walmart.

When I first saw the term “food desert,” I thought it was a typo, referring instead to foods that are really desserts – you know, mostly sugar and empty calories. But it’s not a typo. A “food desert” is an area where there is no real access to grocery stores, or places where one can find healthy foods. Therefore, people in those areas tend to rely on fast-food restaurants, and tend to be diabetic and/or obese.


I remember reading about Detroit supposedly not having a single commercial food outlet within its city limits. As many times as I’ve been to Detroit, I find it mind-boggling there’s no grocery store in such a large city.

Me? I’m freakin’ surrounded.

Mind you, when we bought our house 10 years ago, there weren’t eateries in walking distance. The closest grocery store was a Kroger about 3.5 miles away. Ours was also one of two subdivisions in the area. Now there are at least six more subdivisions around us and a Food Lion grocery store, Sheetz gas and convenience store, Wang’s Kitchen, Big Cheese Pizza ($5 for a large pepperoni), Jamaican Paradise and a Dairy Queen all within a mile’s walking distance from my doorstep. And by the way, in addition to sugary coffee concoctions and frozen fruit drinks, the Sheetz has made-to-order sandwiches and meals (and large selection of Krispy Kreme doughnuts delivered fresh daily).

Also in the past few years, a massive Walmart Supercenter was built between my neighborhood and the Kroger, along with an assortment of other restaurants and, hallelujah, a Starbucks.

I’m somewhat immune to all that food “noise,” however. I only go to Sheetz for gas, and Food Lion for fill-in items, like eggs. Not bread – I’m too cheap; I’d rather go to the bread outlet just a mile further down the street near Kroger, where the bread and buns are more than half the cost, better quality and fresher. I pay 89 cents for a loaf of name brand, 12-grain bread that expires in six days, or pay $3.69 for the same loaf at Food Lion or Kroger, and it expires in four days.

Despite the abundance of unhealthy fare, I’m grateful to have choices – just wish the choices were better. Come summertime, hordes of kids go walking up to the shopping center, buying fistfuls of candy and drinking sugary pop. Far too many are obese, and Lord, so are their mothers: It’s one thing to know the horrifying obesity statistics for black women, quite another to see it day in and day out, in living color standing in line to buy mounds of Chinese food of questionable origin, or waddling out of Big Cheese Pizza with a stack of boxes.

I don’t live in a food desert, and yet a majority of the sisters in my neighborhood are also morbidly obese and most likely diabetic. I am encouraged, however, because I’m seeing more and more ladies walking in the mornings or early evening, sometimes later with their hubbies. I want to believe all this media saturation about how black women are killing themselves is having the desired effect.


But we need to do more, which is what I was thinking as I passed Tom Joyner this morning as he was broadcasting live from that ginormous Walmart.

Yes, The Tom Joyner Morning Show was right there, doing it’s thing to get folks to fill out their census forms. His show airs in 115 markets nationwide and claims 8 million listeners.


The show is great for raising funds for HBCUs. Phenomenal for raising money for other causes, like Katrina and Haiti. I’m a fan, and enjoy listening to it every time I’m in the car in the mornings. Tom Joyner is a sacred cow. Who could criticize? Um, me.

Because never once have they done anything – with any kind of consistency – about the No. 1 threat to the health and welfare of African Americans today. Sure, Sybil Wilkes has started, and stopped, many a public weight-loss quest – Lord knows I can relate – but that’s no reason to abandon the cause itself.


So there I was, strolling past in my sweats and beat-up gym shoes, stopping by Walmart on my way home from the gym to pick up some bagged salad and Craisins, because Walmart’s salad prices beat everyone else’s. Most in the largely African-American crowd were very nicely dressed, quite unlike some in the usual Walmart crowd. A few chose to look me up and down, as if my attire insulted them. (You know how we do.)

No disrespect, Mr. Joyner. Love ya, love your show, etc.  Of course I knew you were there this morning. I just didn’t care.


Sacred cows make the best hamburger.  ~  Mark Twain

Leslie J. Ansley is an award-winning journalist and entrepreneur who blogs daily for TheRoot. She lives in Raleigh, NC.