By Anita Contini and Stephanie Dockery
Can creative art installations that focus on healthy food options lead to a future of healthier eating? Over the past three years, the City of Jackson, Mississippi, has been collaborating with artists, residents, farmers, gardeners, and landscape architects to find out.
Mississippi has a rich agricultural past and annually exports poultry, soybeans, corn, cattle, and catfish across the U.S. But despite being an agricultural world leader, 40 percent of Mississippians suffer from obesity due to inaccessibility to fresh food and vegetables. The state’s capital city, Jackson, is lined with “food swamps” and “food deserts.” “Food swamps” are areas where fast food chains and gas stations filled with processed foods are far more common and easier to access than markets with fresh produce. “Food deserts” are areas where there are limited healthy food options. The city’s food woes can be traced to a legacy of segregation embedded into the city’s urban design, discriminatory food policies, underinvestment in the quality of life of residents, and one of the highest grocery taxes in the country. In essence, Mississippians suffer from unacceptable food options.