Food deserts, pockets of the state with limited access to healthy, fresh food, have garnered attention from lawmakers and advocates.
The N.C. General Assembly has created the Committee on Food Desert Zones to increase the state’s access to healthy food.
Rep. Chris Whitmire, R-Transylvania, co-chairman of the committee, said its goal is to connect agriculture with the market space, which could be as simple as ensuring city buses have stops near farmer’s markets.
“In the end, it doesn’t just affect the person,” he said. “It affects health care, people’s productivity and all kinds of things.”
He said there are currently 80 counties in North Carolina considered food deserts.
Campuses like UNC and N.C. State University are also working to develop and grow campus food pantries to curb student hunger, which is exacerbated by a lack of access to healthy food.
UNC junior Roderick Gladne y, who has been developing a campus food pantry called Carolina Cupboard, said UNC is not a food desert.
But the area presents problems for college students because of the prominence of stores that emphasize costly organic products.
“Organic food is very expensive,” he said. “Even though the food is available, it’s not necessarily convenient for those who have to pay for it.”
Ashton Chatham Tippins, executive director of TABLE, which provides emergency food aid to the hungry in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, said the recent non-genetically modified organism and organic food movement has given the issue momentum.
“I think that it’s become an issue more recently because people are now paying attention to it,” she said.
Lauren Prevatte, volunteer coordinator of NCSU’s Feed the Pack food pantry, said most meal plans are expensive, making them inaccessible to low income students.
She said Feed the Pack was established two years ago to curb student hunger.
“People are trying to put themselves through college ... sacrifices are having to be made,” she said.
Whitmire said the Committee on Food Desert Zones recently drafted a bill to reallocate wasted funds in the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services that originally went toward food stamp education.
The bill would reassign that money to a state agency, called N.C. Cooperative Extension , to serve as a clearinghouse of information for towns and counties struggling to provide their citizens with fresh affordable food, he said.
Whitmire said an unused $1 million from the food stamp education program will roll into next year, and it is projected to continue increasing for the next three or four years.
“The better we can help people help themselves, overall the better we all are and certainly it helps everyone’s quality of life,” he said.