The Legislative Research Commission’s Committee on Booze Desert Zones recently concluded that nearly 28.3 percent of North Carolinians lack adequate access to hard liquor.
To remedy this, the legislative commission has recommended that a state-run fleet of trucks traveling through alcohol-deprived areas selling bottles of state-controlled hooch may be the best way to alleviate the presence of “booze deserts.”
The committee issued its final report in August. To test the concept, the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission will launch a pilot project in December that will operate in several counties in the northeastern region of the state.
The Booze Desert Committee was created by a recommendation of the Committee on Food Desert Zones that ended its work in 2014. Food deserts are defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food.’’
An area is considered a food desert if it meets certain low-income and low-access thresholds. To qualify as a food desert, a census tract must have a poverty rate of at least 20 percent or a median family income at or below 80 percent of the area median family income. It also must have at least 500 residents; 33 percent of the census tract’s population must live at least one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store in urban areas or at least 10 miles from a supermarket or large grocery store in rural areas. According to the USDA, more than 1.5 million North Carolinians live in 350 food deserts across 80 North Carolina counties.
The USDA has not established income and access thresholds for booze deserts, but former state representative and food desert committee chairman Edgar Starnes told Carolina Journal that the food desert criteria may apply. Starnes said during the process of interviewing hundreds of food desert “victims,” committee members learned that better access to hard liquor was considered a greater public need than access to food.
“I promised those people we would address their concerns,” Starnes said. He was instrumental in establishing the Booze Desert Committee before resigning from the General Assembly in January 2015 to take a job with the state treasurer.
The ABC Commission provides uniform control over the sale, purchase, and consumption of alcoholic beverages. ABC Chairman Jim Gardner told CJ he was not excited about the booze truck idea, but will follow the General Assembly’s direction and implement the pilot project.
Gardner said the project will cover a six-county region that includes Pasquotank, Perquimans, Gates, Chowan, Camden, and Currituck counties. The region covers approximately 1,500 square miles but has just eight ABC stores.
At the center of the six-county area is the Amazon Wind Project, formerly known as the Desert Wind energy project. The project, currently under construction, is North Carolina’s first commercial wind energy project. It consists of more than 100 492-foot-tall turbines.
Gardner said he selected that area for the pilot project because Desert Wind was reminiscent of booze desert and food desert. “If there really are food deserts and booze deserts, this would be it. Perhaps better access to booze can help compensate these residents for the visual pollution the wind turbines will cause,” he said.
The ABC Commission will convert a retired food truck into the first “Boozemobile.” It will be equipped with a sophisticated communication system to remind customers by phone call, text message, and email when and where it will be. It will carry a two-person crew and operate six days a week. Tax revenue from the sales will go to the county where the purchase was made.
Parting Shot is a parody loosely based on items in the news. This parody was published in the September 2016 print edition of Carolina Journal.