Terry Jeffrey

First Lady Michelle Obama has called on Congress to create a $400 million-per-year program to encourage the establishment of supermarkets in places she calls "food deserts."

The situation in these "food deserts," as Mrs. Obama describes it, is quite dire indeed. American children are growing fat because their parents cannot get to a supermarket -- to buy fruits and vegetables -- without undergoing the hardship of boarding a bus or riding a taxi.

As a consequence, food-desert-dwelling children are forced to eat fast food and junk procured at chain restaurants and convenience stores.

In a March 10 speech, the first lady painted a sad picture of their plight.

"Right now, 23.5 million Americans, including 6.5 million kids, live in what we call 'food deserts' -- these are areas without a supermarket," she explained. "And as a result these families wind up buying their groceries at the local gas station or convenience store, places that offer few, if any, healthy options."

She offered a solution.

"Let's move to ensure that all families have access to healthy, affordable foods in their community," she said. "(W)e've set an ambitious goal here: to eliminate food deserts in America within seven years.

"To do that," she said, "we're creating a Healthy Food Financing Initiative that's going to invest $400 million a year -- and leverage hundreds of millions more from the private sector -- to bring grocery stores to underserved areas and help places like convenience stores carry healthier options."

Pushing this $400 million food-desert-eradication plan became a standard part of Mrs. Obama's stump speech.

In February, she promoted it in a Philadelphia neighborhood she said had just emerged from a 10-year period without a supermarket -- thanks to subsidies from the enlightened state government of Pennsylvania.

"For 10 years, folks had to buy their groceries at places like convenience stores and gas stations, where usually they don't have a whole lot of fresh food, if any, to choose from," said Mrs. Obama. "So that means if a mom wanted to buy a head of lettuce to make a salad in this community, or have some fresh fruit for their kids' lunch, that means she would have to get on a bus, navigate public transportation with the big bags of groceries, probably more than one time a week, or, worse yet, pay for a taxicab ride to get some other supermarket in another community, just to feed her kids."

Terry Jeffrey

Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor-in-chief of CNSNews

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