Written by Kate Soto, Slow Food USA member who can also be found at her blog, DomestiKating
Humboldt Park is one of Chicago’s 77 neighborhood areas, just west of trendy Wicker Park. It’s known for its beautiful 207-acre park, as well as its deeply rooted Puerto Rican community. Every June, thousands descend upon California and Division Streets to celebrate the Puerto Rican People’s Parade, where you can buy corn and arepas and any number of delicious foods. Yet, this neighborhood, comprised of a community with strong ties to cuisine, is considered a food desert.
The term food desert has been buzzing around Chicago since Mayor Emanuel declared it one of the key issues of his tenure. Approximately 40 percent of the city lives in a ‘food desert’, characterized by a lack of access to fresh, healthy food and grocery stores. These areas happen to occur exclusively in low-income African-American and Latino neighborhoods–like Humboldt Park.
Long before Mayor Emanuel took office, groups had been exploring the implications of food deserts on health and community. In 2006, Mari Gallagher produced a notable report examining their negative impact on public health. Around the same time, Sinai Urban Health Institute did a study that identified Humboldt Park’s obesity rate as considerably higher than the city average: 50 percent of Humboldt Park’s children were found to be obese.