Fast food is comforting, but in low-income areas it crowds out fresher options

<span class="caption">Many Americans find comfort in familiar fast-food meals, but they undercut local food security.</span> <span class="attribution"><a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/photo/elevated-view-of-a-tray-with-fries-a-hamburger-and-royalty-free-image/dv1897014" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Getty Images">Getty Images</a></span>
Many Americans find comfort in familiar fast-food meals, but they undercut local food security. Getty Images

Many Americans take comfort in the routine of jumping into the car and grabbing a burger. They choose restaurants with familiar faces behind the counter. They even yearn for a favorite “greasy spoon” diner while having to cook for themselves at home during COVID-19.

People feel emotionally attached to food and the routines associated with it. These rituals provide a sense of comfort and belonging – even if the meal is from a fast-food restaurant and they stood in line for it.

I study food security in California’s Central Valley, which is, ironically, one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world. Food security means maintaining reliable, consistent access to food. It requires time and resources that are often scarce in food-insecure households.

Many people in the food-rich Central Valley experience

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