The blatant political hackery of the “food desert” map

Austrian Anarchist points us to a USDA map which allegedly shows “food deserts” (i.e. places wherein it is hard for people to access grocery stores and food). (Hat tip.) I say “allegedly” because one such “food desert” in Knoxville includes a Food City grocery store, farmer’s market, Trader Joe’s, Target that has a grocery section, several ethnic food stores, and a bus system.

I perused the USDA “food desert” website and found that my beloved alma mater, Tufts, is a food desert!  So much for having two dining halls, a take-out dining hall, and four on-campus cafes: it’s a “food desert” wherein people are completely unable to access healthy food. Tufts, rated as having the second-best food in the nation, is a culinary wasteland.  Thank you, USDA, for bringing this travesty to our attention.

The USDA determines “food desert” regions primarily by having a large proportion of low-income people.  Then they also factor in grocery stores by distance (i.e. if you are in a low-income neighbourhood, then you are in a “food desert” if you are more than a half-mile from the nearest grocery store).

This is the sort of statistical nuttery that bears no relationship to reality.  People are considered to be in “food deserts” even if the bus or subway leaves from their front door and deposits them 0.6 miles later in front of a grocery store.  College campuses are “food deserts” because they have dining halls instead of supermarkets.

The entire concept of defining “food desert” as not being within a half-mile of a grocery store is absurd: there are precious few areas with the population density to support that concentration of grocery stores. There is no government policy in the world that is going to convince supermarkets to build so many stores so close together.  It also ignores other sources of food (e.g. farmer’s markets, ethnic food stores, dining halls) and means to access food (e.g. mass transit).

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1 Comment

Filed under Food, Nerdiness

One response to “The blatant political hackery of the “food desert” map

  1. Here is a new food desert video. I finally figured out how to open up the census data for the tract and show it before zooming in to the Walmart, Sams, and other grocers.

    More info too, for example it is not “poor areas” as any tract that is less than 80% of the area median family income for an area counts. They ignore grocery stores and only “count” supermarkets. A supermarket is a grocery store that does >$2 million in annual sales.

    Take a gander at what counts for the .5 mile food desert:

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