The tragedy of food deserts – and what's causing them

You’ve heard of the Law of Unintended Consequences, haven’t you? Roughly, it’s defined as outcomes of a purposeful action that are not intended or foreseen. Government regulations are famous for unintended consequences. Far too often, laws that are meant to benefit a particular demographic end up hurting the very people they’re supposed to help. Equally as important, the failure to enforce laws (in the name of social justice or equity or some other feel-good buzzword) can have staggering unintended consequences.

Let’s take the example of food deserts. A food desert is defined as “an urban or rural area that has limited access to affordable and nutritious food. In the urban world, it is considered to be 1 mile from a grocery store (assuming inability to drive to stores and/or limited public transportation). In the rural world, it is considered to be 10 miles from a grocery store (assuming inability to drive to stores and no public transportation).”

Food deserts result when the only foods available are highly processed and nutritionally inadequate, with resulting health impacts such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc. Food deserts hit low-income communities the hardest. They are tragic no matter what. But their causes – like everything else in today’s highly charged environment – are a complex subject loaded with many conflicting factors.

California is seeing a rapidly growing number of food deserts, thanks to Proposition 47 (the “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act”). The Golden State passed this law in 2014 with an eye toward relieving the state’s overcrowded prison system by reducing some felony offenses to misdemeanors – including, crucially, shoplifting any items less than $950 in value.

Needless to say, those looking for “five-fingered discounts” quickly took advantage of the new law and began brazenly walking out with massive amounts of merchandise. If a store saw a series of shoplifters – say, 15 or 20 in a row, which is not uncommon – all helping themselves to $949 in goods, that’s a loss of tens of thousands of dollars. Per day. Every day. How long can a retail store stay in business under these conditions? Answer: It can’t.

It’s not just the brazen theft. Customers are simply too frightened to go into places where thieves have taken over. Employees are reluctant to come to work. Law enforcement has been neutered or defunded. It’s a vicious downward spiral. Businesses are pulling out of places like San Francisco and other blue cities in droves. This hits vulnerable communities the hardest.

“Shoplifting is spiraling out of control in the San Francisco metro area,” reports CNS News. “Walgreens has closed 17 stores there over the last five years. Ten of these were shuttered since 2019. The drugstore chain reports huge losses due to brazen theft and warns that more of the 53 remaining areas stores may have to close. … Residents are the losers in this dangerous game. The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act is fast making their areas unsafe. In places like San Francisco, the relaxed attitude toward crime is creating no-go zones. People no longer want to go into these stores where crimes are committed so brazenly. ‘Nonviolent’ crime attracts violent criminals and professional thieves. … Thus, elderly people, children, and poor families stay away from the victimized stores. In the name of a misguided sentimentality toward criminals, honest people are deprived of those places they need to get their medications and supplies. The most vulnerable people become victims. A sense of danger prevails, even though San Francisco stores spend 35 times more on security guards than elsewhere.”

Other cities (most notably, those which have also defunded their police) have implemented “poverty excuse” laws that decriminalize dozens – in some cases, close to 100 – of misdemeanor laws, as long as the perpetrator uses poverty as an excuse. “The intent of the [poverty excuse] proposal is to avoid punishing desperate people just trying to survive,” notes FEE. “But the provision exempts not only stealing food or similar necessities, but stealing anything – if you claim the money gained from its sale would be used for essentials.”

In Seattle, offenses such as theft, harassment, shoplifting, trespassing and many others now fall under the “poverty excuse” laws. Unsurprisingly, crime has skyrocketed.

Compassionate progressives refuse to blame the perpetrators, arguing many people have no choice but to steal. They would rather claim evil capitalist businesses themselves are to blame for their own demise. They circulate petitions claiming they “cannot allow profit-driven greedy Corporations to further traumatize and abandon their responsibility to the community. People over profits!”

But tell me again – why are businesses in business? Is it to donate their merchandise to shoplifters ad infinitum, or is it to earn a profit by serving the community? The left says the former. The right says the latter. Either way, when stores close, people lose their jobs, the elderly cannot get prescriptions, and healthy eating choices decrease.

The progressive left has many beautiful ideas for eradicating food deserts, everything from encouraging urban gardening to increasing the number of food banks. But the best and most effective way to prevent food deserts is this: STOP STEALING. Allow businesses to sell their merchandise, serve the communities and earn a profit. Radical idea, no?

Businesses that are operating in vulnerable neighborhoods have no interest in closing. They’re not shutting their doors out of spite. They’re not pulling out of the neighbor out of a capricious spirit of vindictiveness. No, they’re leaving because they can’t afford to stay. They’ve been shoplifted out of existence.

This. Must. Stop.

But of course, it won’t. As long as progressive city governments defund their law enforcement, decriminalize crime and refuse to prosecute lawbreakers, then opportunists will continue to take advantage of these loopholes and businesses will lose money until they must close their doors. Cities will further destabilize, unemployment will increase, taxes revenues will go down, and crime will skyrocket. Then government bureaucrats will look in bewilderment at the urban hellholes around them and wonder what happened.

This isn’t conjecture. This is happening in blue cities all across the nation. Food deserts are a tragedy – and they can be laid squarely at the feet of progressive ideals.

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This article was originally published by the WND News Center.

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