Home Conspiracy Theories Are Dollar Stores Purposely Creating Food Deserts in Black Neighborhoods? Viral ILSR...

Are Dollar Stores Purposely Creating Food Deserts in Black Neighborhoods? Viral ILSR Study Fuels Conspiracy Theory

A food desert is a place where access to affordable and nutritious food is limited or nonexistent, especially for people with low income. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 23.5 million Americans live in food deserts, and more than half of them are Black.

One of the factors that contribute to the creation and persistence of food deserts is the presence of dollar stores. These are small discount retailers that sell a variety of cheap items, mostly nonperishable and processed foods, household goods, and personal care products. Dollar stores have been expanding rapidly in the U.S., especially in rural and urban areas where grocery stores are scarce or struggling.

A recent study by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) found that dollar stores are the leading cause of predominantly Black neighborhoods being food deserts because they drive out competition that could provide fresh food and produce. The study analyzed data from 15,000 zip codes and found that dollar stores are more likely to locate in areas with higher poverty rates, lower incomes, and larger Black populations. The study also found that for every new dollar store that opens, one or two local grocery stores close within five years.

The ILSR report argues that dollar stores have a negative impact on the health, safety, and welfare of the communities they serve. By siphoning off sales that would otherwise support grocery stores and other healthy food options, dollar stores create food deserts. They also perpetuate them, especially by opening multiple stores close together, leaving little market opportunity for a grocery store to survive or take root.

Moreover, dollar stores offer low-quality products that are often unhealthy, unsafe, or expired. They also have poor labor practices, such as paying low wages, offering few benefits, and relying on part-time workers. Additionally, dollar stores contribute to environmental degradation by generating large amounts of waste from their single-use packaging and disposable products.

Some communities have been pushing back against the proliferation of dollar stores and demanding more access to healthy food. For example, in DeKalb County, Georgia, where more than 80 percent of the residents are Black, a county commissioner introduced a resolution to establish a yearlong moratorium on small box discount retailers in 2019.

The resolution was motivated by concerns about how dollar stores may be negatively influencing public safety, food availability, and property values in the county. The moratorium has since been extended four times, blocking any new applications or permits for dollar stores.

Other communities have also taken measures to limit or regulate dollar stores, such as imposing zoning restrictions, requiring conditional use permits, or creating incentives for grocery stores to locate or expand in underserved areas. Some communities have also supported alternative models of food provision, such as farmers markets, community gardens, food co-ops, or mobile markets.

The issue of food deserts and dollar stores is not only a matter of economic development, but also of racial justice and health equity. The ILSR report seems to insinuate that Dollar store chains are not responding to economic distress in communities, but rather exploiting it. Therefore, communities need to have more power and voice in deciding what kind of businesses they want and need in their neighborhoods.

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