CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Does the situation facing Akron's inner city equate to the FAO definition of food security? To revisit the entire definition again:
"[A] situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life" (FAO, 2001, Glossary).
Examining this definition, the study found many separate, yet interrelated components. These components must be appropriately addressed and be present in Akron in order for food security to exist. The components are explained below in Table 18. If the components are non-inferable by this study, they appear in italics.
Table 18: Food Security in Akron, Ohio
|Language of FAO definition||Explained|
|All people||Must include everyone, everywhere|
|All the time||Be consistent and accessible at convenient times|
|Physical access||How far is the food away|
|Social access||How culturally acceptable is the method for obtaining the food|
|Economic access||Is the food affordable|
|Sufficient food||Is there enough food|
|Safe food||Is it safe to consume|
|Nutritious food||Does it have the nutrients the body needs, as per USDA recommendations|
|Fulfills food preferences||Is it the sort of food that is desired|
|Allows an active life||Does it give proper energy|
|Allows a healthy life||Does it perpetuate good health|
|Source: FAO, 2001, Glossary|
Going through the components of the food security definition one by one illustrates whether or not they are fulfilled by inner city Akron's situation. The clause "all people" is not answerable by this study. The study does not consider all the people who live in Akron, nor does it consider them as truly active agents in their food security, but ones who act with the understanding that all food comes from grocery stores.
Many food items were unreliably stocked, especially in the case of produce and meat, indicating that the "all the time" condition is not being met. The nature of many small stores leads to periods of inconsistency, thus depriving consumers of assured access.
There are many places that are un-served when considering a half-mile service area for stores-nearly 50 percent of the study area. Certain neighborhoods are un-served by grocery stores, especially in North Akron. The "physical access" component would still be unfulfilled even if a larger service area were delineated. Physical access also implies mobility, something that statistics on vehicle availability indicates is often lacking in poor neighborhoods.
A difficult to determine food security component is "social access". It is addressed by how accessible food is in light of societal problems, such as poverty. The majority of stores accept food stamps, although it is debatable whether public assistance income is socially acceptable. An even greater majority did not accept WIC coupons. Geographically, the more likely people in a service area are to use public assistance, the less likely the store was to accept food stamps.
"Economic access" is one of the most vital accessibility components to consumer decision-making after geography. Financial restrictions play a very important role in food choices and shopping decisions. Food stores in inner city Akron were overwhelmingly higher in cost when compared to the control store. Even though this disparity exists between the inner city and the suburbs, food items sold within the inner city itself cost less for those with smaller incomes.
There cannot be a supply of "sufficient food" when less than half of the average number of recommended food items are available. In addition to a lack of available food items, the most prevalent food groups available were also the least healthy (such as fats, oils, and sugars), while those most necessary for a healthy diet (meats, fruits, and vegetables) were those most consistently absent from stores. Thus, "nutritious food" is also lacking in much of inner city Akron.
Half the recommended items were not available and these are the foods that the USDA proposes as being a standard part of the "average American household" diet, which indicates that the component "fulfills food preferences" is also coming up short. For ethnic diets-specifically Asian diets-store locations were not located where Asian people lived, although they appear to be concentrated around The University of Akron (where many Asian students study).
Due to the inability of grocery stores to meet the preceding required components, food security is not present in Akron. Although some of these components are partially met by the food stores of inner city Akron, most are not. The application of the FAO definition to this study area could suggest that partial food security exists, but if all components are required for true food security, it is then apparent that food insecurity is actually the prevailing status of Akron's food stores, not merely partial food security.
There are many ways to approach solving the problems of food security and food access. Some of them are intended as permanent solutions, while others may be more temporary. They range from the short-term to the very long-term. Although highly diverse, all of the following could be considered as possible ways in which to improve Akron's food security and access.
Two different attitudes may be adopted for addressing the immediate disparities witnessed between the control store and inner city Akron stores. One attitude considers the importance of attracting supermarkets back into the inner-city areas, by lowering insurance costs, changing zoning, and actively courting chain stores with subsidies and tax-breaks.
The second attitude views smaller stores to be important to the vitality of communities by merit of their local focus, tendency to keep profits local, personal attention, and their function as a "community anchor".8 This second approach advocates slowing and stopping supermarket mergers, breaking up city-wide monopolies, making WIC requirements more adaptable to smaller-scale stores, involving stores in community economic development programs, and creating municipal policy supporting a non-chain-based food system. At a more systemic and local level, two of the best ways to improve the plight of inner city neighborhoods would be to stop capital flight to the suburbs and raise the standard of living of everyone in Akron; however, this is easier said that done and would be a lofty goal even for those not concerned with food security.
Food security may be improved by encouraging community gardening projects, community supported agriculture (CSAs), and the creation of "food empowerment zones"-although none of these directly involve grocery stores. Large scale, urban agriculture is highly-praised and encouraged in the sustainable development community, although some of the best examples in "industrialized countries" are also in authoritarian socialist states, such as China and Cuba (Altieri, et al., 1999; Howe and Wheeler, 1999).
Finally, social welfare should not be examined in a vacuum, devoid of issues like autonomy, justice, and local-global scale (Smith, 1973; Powell and Boyne, 2001). True democratic control should be extended over food systems through the mechanisms of sustainable agriculture legislation, electing progressive thinkers to important decision making bodies, organizing local food policy councils, and campaigning against corporate dominated food systems (Henson, 2001; Pothukuchi and Kaufman, 1999).
 Unofficial conversations and qualitative observations from the grocery store surveys tended to support this thesis.