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The EU is doing what the US won’t: kicking coal to the curb

The European Union has undergone a pretty dramatic transformation as of late — and we’re not talking about Brexit. The group of member states, which pledged as a collective to become carbon neutral by 2050 as part of Europe’s Green Deal, cut carbon emissions from electricity by a whopping 12 percent in 2019, according to a report compiled by the European thinktanks Agora EnergieWende and Sandbag. Coal use, in particular, plummeted by about 25 percent.

“What surprised us most was the magnitude of the collapse of coal and the accompanying decrease in CO2 emissions,” said report coauthor Fabian Hein. “The speed of it was impressive.”

Clayton Aldern / Grist

The dramatic drop in CO2 — the equivalent of cutting the U.S. state of Georgia’s annual carbon emissions — can be linked to both the E.U.’s commitment to making Europe “the first carbon-neutral continent” and a steep increase in the market price of carbon, which drove the cost of polluting to its highest level since 2008. Aggressive onboarding of wind and solar also helped renewables overtake coal for the first time as the largest contributor to the electricity sector.

While that’s good news for the planet, the numbers don’t guarantee Europe will continue to make steady progress toward its goal of a carbon-neutral economy by 2050. A milder-than-usual winter last year helped lower the demand for electricity slightly across every country included in the 2019 report. And a closer look at the data shows that while coal power is falling fast, natural gas use has actually crept back up since hitting a low point in 2014. Not all E.U. nations are making the same progress in renewable development. Many Eastern European countries continue to fall far behind their wealthier neighbors, like Germany, the U.K, or the Netherlands.

The E.U. still has a lot of work to do to hit its 2030 benchmarks, including rapid improvements in energy efficiency and transportation. But in a speech about the challenges Europe still faces in its energy transition, Frans Timmermans, executive vice president of the European Commission and the head of the European Green Deal, singled out power generation as a reason to believe the E.U.’s can achieve its larger climate goals.”

That is one area at least in which progress is “go[ing] much faster than anybody had anticipated,” Timmermans said.

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The EU is doing what the US won’t: kicking coal to the curb

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Jim Cramer, ‘Mad Money’ host, declares fossil fuels dead

ExxonMobil and Chevron stocks sank Friday morning after both oil companies reported disappointing fourth quarter earnings. How does influential TV financial analyst Jim Cramer make sense of that? The Mad Money host thinks it’s time to ditch oil companies — and not just because they’re currently a drag on the Dow.

On Friday’s Squawk Box, a pre-market morning show, the TV host and former hedge fund manager stunned CNBC anchor Rebecca Quick by saying that oil companies are in the “death knell phase.”

“I’m done with fossil fuels. They’re done,” he said. “We’re starting to see divestment all over the world. We’re starting to see … big pension funds saying, ‘Listen, we’re not gonna own them anymore.’”

“The world’s changed,” Cramer added later. “This has to do with new kinds of money managers who frankly just want to appease younger people who believe that you can’t ever make a fossil fuel company sustainable.”

It may seem a bit surprising that a volatile baby boomer stock-picker who’s written multiple books with the phrase “Get Rich” in the title just delivered a resounding condemnation of fossil fuel companies on live TV. But this isn’t the first time Cramer has nudged the market in a greener direction: Just last month, he threw his weight behind Tesla’s stock, calling himself a “true believer” in the electric car company.

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Jim Cramer, ‘Mad Money’ host, declares fossil fuels dead

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Fed official: Climate change is an ‘international market failure’

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Climate change was already worrying enough — now a report from the U.S. central bank cautions that rising temperatures and extreme storms could eventually trigger a financial collapse.

A Federal Reserve researcher warned in a report on Monday that “climate-based risk could threaten the stability of the financial system as a whole.” But possible fixes — using the Fed’s buying power to green the economy — are currently against the law.

Glenn Rudebusch, the San Francisco Fed’s executive vice president for research, ranks climate change as one of the three “key forces transforming the economy,” along with an aging population and rapid advances in technology. Climate change could soon hit the banking system “by storms, droughts, wildfires, and other extreme events” making it harder for businesses to repay loans.

Rudebusch warns that crops and inundated cities have already started to hurt the economy: “Economists view these losses as the result of a fundamental market failure: carbon fuel prices do not properly account for climate change costs,” he writes. “Businesses and households that produce greenhouse gas emissions, say, by driving cars or generating electricity, do not pay for the losses and damage caused by that pollution.”

A hefty carbon tax alone wouldn’t be enough to fix the problem — what he calls an “intergenerational and international market failure.”

Since Congress has yet to take sufficient action, Rudebusch says that the Fed could, in theory, take matters into its own hands by encouraging a shift away from fossil fuels. The problem is, the Fed’s only official job is to keep inflation tame and unemployment low. And its tools are limited to buying and selling government debt to tweak interest rates.

That means it can’t help companies make a shift to a low-carbon economy by, for instance, lending them money in the bond market. By contrast, the European Central Bank has been buying “green” bonds since 2016. An ECB research note last July found that those purchases have helped boost the market for these kind of investments, helping spur environmental improvements.

Along with a report last week from the insurance industry saying that climate change could eventually make insurance unaffordable for most people, Rudebusch’s report is part of a growing body of evidence that climate change poses an existential threat to the world economy as it currently exists.

Last month, Fed chairman Jerome Powell told legislators that asking why the Fed doesn’t currently consider the risks of climate change was a “fair question.”

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Fed official: Climate change is an ‘international market failure’

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Inside the bill that set the ‘strongest clean energy requirement in the nation’

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This story was originally published by CityLab and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Washington, D.C., is positioning itself on the climate policy fast track. The District of Columbia city council voted unanimously last week to approve an expansive climate bill requiring utility providers to generate 100 percent of their energy supply from renewable sources by 2032. If D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser signs the legislation as expected, the provisions will put the nation’s capital on a faster, formally pledged timeline toward cutting utility emissions than any U.S. state. (Hawaii and California have both pledged state-wide goals of 100 percent renewable energy for electricity by 2045.)

While several smaller cities have already reached similar 100-percent renewable energy targets, Washington, D.C., is by far the largest city to make such a commitment. And that’s not all that’s in the bill. Together, the provisions were dubbed the “strongest clean energy requirement in the nation,” by Mark Rodeffer, D.C. Sierra Club chapter chair.

So what’s in D.C.’s bill? And what can the rest of us learn from it, at a time when cities and states are racing to fill the gap left by federal regulators to slow climate change?

What the bill regulates: Electricity and some transportation

D.C.’s new bill is intended to dramatically decrease emissions from one of the most common sources, electricity, by ratcheting up the requirements on utility providers. D.C.’s current law already mandates that utility providers derive 50 percent of their energy supply from renewable sources by 2032, with 5 percent carved out for solar. The new bill doubles these figures to 100 percent renewables by 2032 with 10 percent solar by 2041.

Buildings account for 74 percent of D.C.’s carbon emissions. And the bill also establishes a separate program to set benchmarks for energy efficiency for the largest buildings in the city, those with more than 10,000 square feet of gross floor area. The specific standards, however, have not yet been set. According to Cliff Majersik, the Institute for Market Transformation executive director who worked on the bill, D.C. will become the first U.S. jurisdiction “to require a broad swath of existing buildings to improve their whole-building energy performance.”

The bill also tackles another major contributor of emissions: transportation. While the bill won’t do anything to regulate residents’ private transportation choices, it will regulate the city’s own contributions: By 2045, all public transportation and privately owned vehicle fleets in D.C. will have to produce zero emissions.

How would the bill be implemented?

The burden falls on utility companies to meet benchmarks for renewable electricity — or pay a price. Every year, the city sets renewable energy standards for companies to hit that increase incrementally until they reach 100 percent in 2032. What happens if companies don’t meet those standards? The city requires electricity suppliers to to make compliance payments into D.C.’s Renewable Energy Development Fund.

There are other guaranteed revenue sources to fund other parts of the bill. Utility companies serving D.C. are already required to collect fees from customers who use natural gas and electricity. These fees are put toward a fund for D.C.’s energy efficiency efforts. But this bill temporarily raises those per-unit rates and creates a new fee on home heating and fuel oil to raise even more money for energy efficiency. (D.C. residents who make under a certain income, with the amount dependent on household size, will still be eligible for utilities discounts.)

Helping low-income residents transition to clean energy

Some of the revenue from increased fees will be used to help low-income communities adapt.

“Communities that have done the least to cause climate change [are] disproportionately bearing the burden of climate change,” Judith Howell, a member of the labor union 32BJ SEIU, said in a statement. “Working people in the U.S. and around the world will be extremely vulnerable to those changes.”

Thirty percent of the additional revenue will be put aside for programs like weatherization and bill assistance for low-income households, as well as job training in energy efficiency fields. At least $3 million annually will also be allocated toward energy efficiency upgrades in affordable housing buildings.

The criticism that watered down one requirement for utilities

In November, local energy company Pepco ran some misleading ads on Facebook urging D.C. residents to “act now” and “act boldly” to achieve a “sustainable vision.” When users clicked through to a petition, what it was asking was that its customers oppose a provision of the bill requiring Pepco to use long-term contracts for renewable energy.

WAMU’s Jacob Fenston wrote in November:

“Pepco wants residents to sound off on one small piece of the legislation: a requirement that Pepco purchase renewable energy under long-term contracts. According to the DOEE analysis, this provision would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8 percent by 2032.”

Majersik told CityLab that the long-term contract provision Pepco opposed was stripped from the bill, but may be proposed as part of a new bill in 2019. Ultimately, Pepco supported the revised bill and released a statement calling the legislation an “important step toward advancing the cause of clean energy.”

Among the primary supporters of the bill was the D.C. Climate Coalition, which included over 110 advocacy organizations, faith groups, unions, consumer advocate organizations, and D.C. businesses.

Camila Thorndike, D.C. campaign director at the CCAN Action Fund said in a press release: “With the passage of this bill, we’re taking the power back from President Trump and taking control of our energy future.”

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Inside the bill that set the ‘strongest clean energy requirement in the nation’

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There’s a fight brewing in D.C. over the future of the green movement

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This post has been updated to include the actions Sunrise Movement held on Tuesday.

Something weird is happening around climate change right now — and it’s not just that rising average temperatures are throwing our entire planet out of whack. Typically an issue politicians on both sides of the aisle avoid, climate has been a topic of heated conversation on the Hill ever since the Democrats took the House on Nov. 6. What gives?

The reinvigorated dialogue around climate is due, at least in part, to a group called the Sunrise Movement. Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined 150 Sunrise protestors in House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office last week for a sit-in to demand an economy-wide plan to address climate change. The activists and a small number of progressive Congressional Democrats (most of them newly elected), are pushing for something called a Green New Deal — kind of like the 1930s version but for green jobs. (Sunrise Movement cofounder Varshini Prakash was a member of the 2018 Grist 50.)

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But if you think the plan went over well with everyone who understands climate change, you’d be mistaken. Many politicians on both sides of the aisle prefer a market-driven approach that could hypothetically garner bipartisan support. The activists argue that neither political party, especially not the Republicans, has come to the table with the kind of solution necessary to avert climate catastrophe. To that end, on Tuesday, Sunrise Movement members staked out Congressional representatives, like Democrats Barbara Lee of California and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, to ask them for their support on a Green New Deal.

The protests shine a spotlight on the rebirth of two very different approaches to climate change solutions: sticking with compromise tactics, such as a carbon tax that can appeal to people on either side of the political spectrum, versus a balls-out, last-ditch effort to create a green America. Proponents of each think they have the more realistic approach. As we hurtle closer to a 2 degrees Celsius of warming, the split between these two groups is widening into a chasm.

One of the people rankled by the activists’ efforts to strong-arm Pelosi is Representative Carlos Curbelo of Florida, the Republican who co-founded a bipartisan climate change caucus in the House of Representatives two years ago (which earned him a spot on our 2017 Grist 50 list). This past Election Day, Curbelo lost his seat to a Democrat, Representative-elect Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. The Sunrise demonstrations still didn’t sit well with Curbelo, who called the protestors’ actions “truly deplorable.” In response, the young activists called him a phony.

There’s reason to think that Curbelo really believes his vision for reigning in emissions is the right one. This summer, he introduced the Market Choice Act — a carbon tax that went approximately nowhere, but, as Curbelo said, laid the groundwork for similar taxes in the future. He was one of only a handful of candidates, blue or red, who ran midterm ads that mentioned his position on climate change. And he wasn’t shy about bringing up climate change on the Hill over and over again, even while the rest of his Republican colleagues ignored the issue and condemned solutions.

But Curbelo’s political legacy isn’t all green. He voted in favor of President Trump’s tax plan that opened up parts of the Arctic Refuge for oil exploration, took money from energy companies in his bid for reelection, and recently caught flak for calling people who made the link between hurricanes and climate change “alarmists.”

Curbelo says he plans on continuing his climate-related work after he steps down in January — and he’s still got his eye on a carbon tax. But Sunrise activists aren’t giving up either. Serious climate legislation won’t get through the Republican-controlled Senate for a long time. In the meantime, the Democratic Party has a choice: stick with its old, bipartisan approach (albeit now with fewer Republican moderates to reach to across the aisle), or break off from the middle like a piece of Arctic ice.

We might not have to wait long to see which road Democrats take. Capitalizing on the zeitgeist, Senator Bernie Sanders announced on Monday that he’ll host a town hall dedicated to climate solutions next month. The 90-minute event is meant to galvanize support for fundamental changes in America’s energy policy — exactly the kind of solution for which Sunrise and Ocasio-Cortez are gunning. If this keeps up, veteran politicians may soon be forced to confront an approach that has been, until now, safely sequestered on the sidelines.

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There’s a fight brewing in D.C. over the future of the green movement

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How to Tell Which Foods Are In Season this Fall

Winter, spring, summer, fall…each new season brings with it a multitude of unique tastes and smells. Squash, pumpkin, chestnuts, and freshly picked apples signify that fall has come. Colorful bell peppers, cherries, and watermelon taste like summer.

It’s comforting knowing that everything has its place, isn’t it? That you can count on fresh apricots and corn on the cob when warm weather comes around. But the benefits of eating in-season produce go far beyond those daily comforts.

Seasonal food is produce that is “purchased and consumed around the time that it is harvested.” As such, eating seasonally means greater?access to a more nutritious diet, a reduction in your?carbon footprint, and financial savings in your pocket thanks to the?nature of abundance. But how do you know which foods are in season when fall rolls around?

How to Tell Which Foods Are In Season this Fall

With grocery stores sourcing?produce worldwide?it can be hard to tell which types of produce are actually in season and which were shipped from a warmer climate thousands of miles away. Here’s where you can start.

1) Check out the Seasonal Food Guide.

The Seasonal Food Guide?is an easy online tool that you can use to determine which foods are in season when, based on your exact location and the time of the year. Through this tool I discovered that the best produce available in Wyoming right now is: apples, beets, brussels sprouts and carrots! Cool, right?

2) Visit your local farmer’s market.

Shopping at the farmer’s market is a wonderful way to see seasonal produce right in front of you ? question answered! This week at our Cheyenne Farmer’s Market we saw lots of squash, pumpkins, and carrots galore. Need some recipe inspiration? Here are fourteen delicious recipes to make this harvest season.

3) Ask your neighbors.

At this time of the year, most gardeners have more produce than they know what to do with. Do your friends have fall tomatoes coming out their ears? Who knows, they may need someone to take them off their hands! Over time, you’ll grow more familiar with which foods are growing at any given time.

What fresh fruits and vegetables?get you excited about this fall??

Related at Care2

14 Foods to Eat this Harvest Season
Is it better to buy local or organic?
4 Vegetables to Plant Now for a Fall Harvest

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.


How to Tell Which Foods Are In Season this Fall

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Obamacare Is Pretty Stable — Unless Republicans Cripple It

Mother Jones

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The CSR subsidies that President Trump keeps threatening to kill are pretty important:

Here in California, our insurance commissioner has asked all health insurers for two sets of rate hike requests: one that assumes the CSR subsidies continue and one that assumes they don’t. We won’t get the rate requests for several weeks, but I expect that we’ll see the same kind of difference. At a guess, average rate increase requests will be around 6 percent with CSR and 15 percent without.

Just to be crystal clear about this: What this means is that if Republicans stop screwing around with CSR, rate hikes nationwide would probably be in the 5-10 percent range, which is fairly normal. It also shows that the market has started to stabilize after last year’s big increases. The only reason we’re likely to see another year of big increases is because of a deliberate campaign to undermine the Obamacare market by Republicans.

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Obamacare Is Pretty Stable — Unless Republicans Cripple It

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Obamacare Is Doing Fine Unless Trump Kills It

Mother Jones

The Congressional Budget Office says that Obamacare is in good shape:

Under current law, most subsidized enrollees purchasing health insurance coverage in the nongroup market are largely insulated from increases in premiums because their out-of-pocket payments for premiums are based on a percentage of their income; the government pays the difference. The subsidies to purchase coverage combined with the penalties paid by uninsured people stemming from the individual mandate are anticipated to cause sufficient demand for insurance by people with low health care expenditures for the market to be stable.

Insurance companies are starting to make money on Obamacare. Nearly 20 million people have health insurance because of Obamacare. Premiums will probably go up next year, but not by a huge amount. And even if they do go up, federal subsidies will shield most people from having to pay any more than this year. Because of all this, CBO believes that Obamacare will stay stable and strong:

President Trump tweeted the opposite today, saying once again that Obamacare was on the verge of failing. This is a lie, one that he’s repeated over and over. Obamacare will fail only if he cuts off its funding.

The reason for this post isn’t so much to mention that Trump lied again today. The sun also rose in the east, and I didn’t write about that. It’s to remind everyone—including me—to stop writing tweets and blog posts that say something like this:

Trump says Obamacare is in a death spiral. He’s wrong.

When we repeat the lie, we just give it more exposure. The end result is that people vaguely know something about Obamacare and death spiral and controversial, and that’s it. They don’t really know who’s right, they just know that they keep seeing stuff about Obamacare being in trouble.

So don’t do it. Instead, just write the truth and then mention that Trump has lied about it.

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Obamacare Is Doing Fine Unless Trump Kills It

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Obamacare Is Doing Well, But Trump and Ryan Can Change That If They Want

Mother Jones

Today brings a couple of pieces of tentative good news for Obamacare. First there’s this:

The Trump administration says it is willing to continue paying subsidies to health insurance companies under the Affordable Care Act even though House Republicans say the payments are illegal because Congress never authorized them….The Affordable Care Act requires insurers to reduce deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs for certain low-income consumers. The “cost-sharing” subsidies, which total $7 billion a year, compensate insurers for these discounts.

….House Republicans sued the Obama administration, saying that the spending — in the absence of an appropriations law — was unconstitutional. A Federal District Court judge agreed and ordered a halt to the payments, but suspended her order to allow the government to appeal.

This is a huge deal. CSR payments are critical for insurance companies, and the Trump administration could have decided to stop defending the law and let House Republicans kill the payments by default. That could still happen, but it sounds like it won’t happen this year, at least. This was the single biggest bit of uncertainty facing insurance companies this year, and this announcement should ease a lot of their short-term concerns.

So with this temporarily out of the way, how does the overall Obamacare market look? According to Standard & Poors, profit levels for insurers are still too low, but they’re improving and the market seems to be in pretty good shape:

The U.S. ACA individual market shows signs of improvement, as most insurers’ 2016 results were better than 2015 results….2016 results and the market enrollment so far in 2017 show that the ACA individual market is not in a “death spiral.”

….We believe the continued pricing correction and network design changes, along with regulatory fine-tuning of ACA rules, will result in closer to break-even underwriting results, on average, for the individual market this year….As insurers continue to adjust their products and pricing, we expect some premium rate increase in 2018 as well. If it remains business as usual, we expect 2018 premiums to increase at a far lower clip than in 2017.

S&P’s biggest worry is Congress futzing around with things: “Every time something new (and potentially disruptive) is thrown into the works, it impedes the individual market’s path to stability.”

Two things are pretty clear. First, contrary to what folks like Donald Trump and Paul Ryan say, the Obamacare market is not on the verge of collapse. It’s working pretty well and is likely to get better in the future. But second, Trump and Ryan certainly have the power to put Obamacare on the verge of collapse if that’s what they want to do. Now we just have to wait to find out what they want to do.

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Obamacare Is Doing Well, But Trump and Ryan Can Change That If They Want

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The Depressing Truth About Hipster Food Towns

Mother Jones

Hallie Bateman

Deborah Gilfillan lives between Brooklyn’s first Trader Joe’s and its flagship Whole Foods. She’s also walking distance from Union Market, a local grocery chain where flank steak sells for $15.99 per pound. But these stores are too expensive and don’t have the right ingredients for the 62-year-old contract administrator, a native Brooklynite who lives in a brownstone she bought for a song back in the 1960s. Nowadays, she usually walks or takes the bus almost a mile to shop.

In the past, if a city dweller had to journey a mile to a grocery store, it probably meant she lived in a “food desert.” The term was coined by social scientists in the 1990s to describe places bereft of ingredients needed to make a healthy meal.

In recent years, the US government has spent at least $169 million in grants and helped raise $1 billion more to try to end food deserts, by funding things like new stores and farmers markets. But as urban neighborhoods gentrify, a new kind of disparity has emerged. Many experts, including some federal researchers, stress that high local grocery prices—not simply distance—prevent lower-income households from eating well. Gilfillan finds herself not in a food desert, but rather in what some soci­ologists are now calling a food mirage. Her home is surrounded by fancy markets and restaurants, yet cheap staples are hard to come by. “You can go in there and buy 10 different lettuces,” she says. But “we grew up on pork. A lot of them don’t have it.”

In cities across America, specialty stores flock to newly hip districts while cheap supermarkets are pushed out. Since 2000, the median sale price for a home in Gilfillan’s neighborhood of Boerum Hill has increased nearly fivefold, from $250,000 in January 2000 to $1.15 million in the fall of 2016, pulling up commercial real estate with it. Met Foods, the grocery store she used to frequent, was sold in 2014 as the land under it became valuable.

The conventional approach to addressing food access is blind to these mirages. In 2010, the White House announced the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, which provides loans, grants, and tax breaks to food sellers mostly in neighborhoods that qualify as food deserts. To help identify needy areas, the government looks at whether the median income of a census tract is less than 81 percent of the median income of the greater area. But this metric doesn’t work well in gentrifying neighborhoods, where rich and poor people live crammed together.

Take Boise, an up-and-coming district in Portland, Oregon. In 2014, 15 percent of its residents lived below the federal poverty line of $11,670 for individuals or $23,850 for a family of four. But thanks to upscale stores like New Seasons (a West Coast chain similar to Whole Foods) and the district’s high median family income, it’s hard to call Boise a true food desert, even though people there have few options besides pricey retailers and corner stores stuffed with junk food. While “conventionally defined food deserts are rare in Portland,” a pair of researchers concluded in a 2013 paper, “food mirages, by contrast, cover much of the city.”

Nonprofit grocery stores might help close this gap. For example, Fare & Square, a nonprofit in Chester, Pennsylvania, relies partly on government funding to keep its prices low. But the Obama administration’s initiative mostly targeted nonprofit grocery stores in neighborhoods already deemed food deserts. Places like Boise and Boerum Hill tend to fall through the cracks.

The Department of Agriculture doesn’t seem sure what to tell people living in food mirages. Even benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly called food stamps) aren’t a great solution: They’re based on nationwide average costs, so they don’t go as far in places where specialty and niche food stores dominate the market and charge upward of $4 a gallon for milk. When I asked a SNAP spokeswoman about the problem of ignoring local food prices, she referred me to a webpage called “Healthy Eating on a Budget.” “Create a grocery game plan,” it suggests. “Rethink your food choices and pick healthier options.”

Gilfillan has a grocery game plan. She treks to Stop & Shop, a chain supermarket where she finds plenty of bargains. On her way home, she passes modern condos and farm-to-table restaurants. Although she can’t bring herself to move out of her house, her advice for her son, Dashawn, is different. “Sell it for whatever you can get,” she recalls telling him. “So long as you got the memories, you don’t need this damn house.”

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The Depressing Truth About Hipster Food Towns

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