From the top-down and the bottom-up, communities are coming together to end food deserts.

Take a moment to think about how far from your house you have to travel to buy fresh fruits, vegetables, or meat. If you have to travel at least one mile (or 10 miles in rural areas) to purchase fresh food, you, my friend, are living in a food desert.

A food desert looks less like this:


Photo by iStock.

And more like this:

Yes, there is access to food in a food desert. But not fresh produce or meat. Photo by iStock.

Food deserts tend to exist in low-income areas, where residents may not have access to reliable transportation, which makes traveling long distances difficult, time consuming, and expensive.

For example, in Baltimore, a heavily residential metropolitan area, 1 in 4 people live in a food desert.

According to the Baltimore Business Journal, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake intends to introduce legislation offering, "new or renovating supermarkets in certain areas of the city an 80 percent discount on their personal property taxes for 10 years."

Those areas of the city are, of course, food deserts.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

And Rawlings-Blake is not alone. Between 2001 and 2011, 12 states, including Washington D.C., enacted healthier food legislation. Which is a good thing, because food deserts aren't just an isolated issue, they're a national problem.

An estimated 23.5 million people in the U.S. (that's 7% of the country) reside in a food desert.

Without access to groceries or supermarkets to buy healthy food, residents of these areas often resort to fast food or convenience stores, which can result in poor nutrition and an increase in diet-related diseases like heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Photo by iStock.

As part of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign, the current administration pledged to eliminate food deserts in America by 2017.

While many elected officials are doing what they can, the legislative process is often slow. Many people living in food deserts can't afford to wait until 2017 to get access to fresh food.

Grassroots organizations in cities and communities are helping chip away at the ambitious goal.

Consider the Real Food Farm, an urban farm in a Baltimore park. While Mayor Rawlings-Blake is proposing a bill to give tax cuts to supermarkets in food deserts in the near future, the volunteers from Real Food Farm are making sure the people in those areas have access to fresh produce right now.

Several times a week, volunteers harvest crops and drive to different communities to sell fresh produce from their truck, better known as a "mobile farmers market." They even match the first $5 customers spend. Thanks to the matching program, shoppers can take home a full bag of groceries for less than most meals at fast food restaurants.

Real Food Farm's mobile farmers market in action. Photo by Real Food Farm, used with permission.

Or consider Juices for Life, a fresh-pressed juice bar in the Bronx, which was opened by platinum-selling rap artists Styles P and Jadakiss with the goal of bringing healthier options to the community they love.

"If you walk down the block in the hood, it's nearly impossible to find something healthy to put in your body," Jadakiss said in a video for EliteDaily. "We didn't have the knowledge or the opportunity we do now. That's exactly what we're trying to give to our community."


Or consider the People's Community Market in West Oakland, California, where the community was so desperate for a grocery store but couldn't secure large private investors. Brahm Ahmadi, a local entrepreneur, took it upon himself to found the market and sell stock in the organization through a direct public offering, the same nontraditional approach used by Costco and Ben & Jerry's when they were up-and-coming businesses.

The individuals and families investing (each contributing a minimum of $1,000) have raised over $1 million to acquire a site and get to work building the much-needed grocery store.


West Oakland is one step closer to veggies on veggies on veggies. Photo by iStock.

All of these options are steps in the right direction toward solving a much bigger problem. They're a frequent reminder that when we come together, we can find meaningful solutions to challenging problems and help our communities thrive.

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Women around the world are constantly bombarded by traditional and outdated societal expectations when it comes to how they live their lives: meet a man, get married, buy a home, have kids.

Many of these pressures often come from within their own families and friend circles, which can be a source of tension and disconnect in their lives.

Global skincare brand SK-II created a new campaign exploring these expectations from the perspective of four women in four different countries whose timelines vary dramatically from what their mothers, grandmothers, or close friends envision for them.

SK-II had Katie Couric meet with these women and their loved ones to discuss the evolving and controversial topic of marriage pressure and societal expectations.

SK-II

"What happens when dreams clash with expectations? We're all supposed to hit certain milestones: a degree, marriage, a family," Couric said before diving into conversation with the "young women who are defining their own lives while navigating the expectations of the ones who love them most."

Maluca, a musician in New York, explains that she comes from an immigrant family, which comes with the expectation that she should live the "American Dream."

"You come here, go to school, you get married, buy a house, have kids," she said.

Her mother, who herself achieved the "American Dream" with hard work and dedication when she came to the United States, wants to see her daughter living a stable life.

"I'd love for her to be married and I'd love her to have a big wedding," she said.

Chun Xia, an award-winning Chinese actress who's outspoken about empowering other young women in China, said people question her marital status regularly.

"I'm always asked, 'Don't you want to get married? Don't you want to start a family and have kids like you should at your age?' But the truth is I really don't want to at this point. I am not ready yet," she said.

In South Korea, Nara, a queer-identifying artist, believes her generation should have a choice in everything they do, but her mother has a different plan in mind.

SK-II

"I just thought she would have a job and meet a man to get married in her early 30s," Nara's mom said.

But Nara hopes she can one day marry her girlfriend, even though it's currently illegal in her country.

Her mother, however, still envisions a different life for her daughter. "Deep in my heart, I hope she will change her mind one day," she said.

Maina, a 27-year-old Japanese woman, explains that in her home country, those who aren't married by the time they're 25 to 30, are often referred to as "unsold goods."

Her mom is worried about her daughter not being able to find a boyfriend because she isn't "conventional."

"I really want her to find the right man and get married, to be seen as marriage material," she said.

After interviewing the women and their families, Couric helped them explore a visual representation of their timelines, which showcased the paths each woman sees her life going in contrast with what her relatives envision.

SK-II

"For each young woman, two timelines were created. One represents the expectations. The other, their aspirations," Couric explained. "There's often a disconnect between dreams and expectations. But could seeing the difference lead to greater understanding?"

The women all explored their timelines, which included milestones like having "cute babies," going back to school, not being limited by age, and pursuing dreams.

By seeing their differences side-by-side, the women and their families were able to partake in more open dialogue regarding the expectations they each held.

One of the women's mom's realized her daughter was lucky to be born during a time when she has the freedom to make non-traditional choices.

SK-II

"It looks like she was born in the right time to be free and confident in what she wants to do," she said.

"There's a new generation of women writing their own rules, saying, 'we want to do things our way,' and that can be hard," Couric explained.

The video ends with the tagline: "Forge your own path and choose the life you want; Draw your own timeline."

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