Food Producing Communities as Food Deserts

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Anita Chary

Anita Chary

Anita Chary, MD PhD, is an anthropologist and resident physician at the Harvard Affiliated Emergency Medicine Residency. She is Research Director of the non-governmental organization Maya Health Alliance | Wuqu' Kawoq, which provides health care and development services in rural indigenous communities of Guatemala.

The view from Xejuyu’ is breathtaking: green fields of fresh berries, feathery carrot tops, and blossoming broccoli line the mountainsides. The majority of the residents of this rural indigenous Guatemalan village are farmers, who grow a diverse set of vegetables in addition to local staples of corn and beans. Yet nearly 60% of children in the village are chronically malnourished, and almost all households experience food insecurity.

Rural Guatemala. Photo by Rob Tinworth, used with permission.

Rural Guatemala. Photo by Rob Tinworth, used with permission.

Why? A substantial amount of the crops Xejuyu’ residents produce—particularly the broccoli, snow peas, blackberries, and green beans—are produced for export to other countries, not for consumption at home.

When I began working in Xejuyu’ with my colleagues from the Maya Health Alliance several years ago, we were struck by the disparity between the rich diversity of foods that are grown locally and the poor dietary diversity that characterizes most children’s diets. We recently conducted a study, led by anthropologist Meghan Farley Webb, to better understand this pattern.

To read our thoughts about how rural communities that are primarily devoted to food production can effectively function as food deserts, follow this link to our article in BMC Nutrition:

Exploring mechanisms of food insecurity in indigenous agricultural communities in Guatemala: a mixed methods study – by MF Webb et al.