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Food Desert
May 4, 2011 11:03 AM   Subscribe

Do you live in a food desert?

Via Consumerist, which includes an explanation of what a food desert is defined as.
posted by backseatpilot (54 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Apparently I live in some kind of desert where I can't get this website. Fortunately, there's plenty of Error #2032 to subsist on.
posted by DU at 11:06 AM on May 4, 2011


You checked that there was just one "s" about a dozen times didn't you?
posted by longbaugh at 11:09 AM on May 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


Note that you might have to wait a minute or two for the pink desert markers to show up.
posted by Danila at 11:09 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Apparently all of NYC is a food desert? Certainly feels that way sometimes but I think more specificity might be in order.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:11 AM on May 4, 2011


Doesn't seem to work.
posted by Perplexity at 11:11 AM on May 4, 2011


Doesn't work.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:12 AM on May 4, 2011


So it's not just me?
posted by box at 11:12 AM on May 4, 2011


Site loads for me, but absolutely no food deserts appear anywhere. So, yay?
posted by Gator at 11:13 AM on May 4, 2011


Broken for me, too (in Google Chrome).
posted by ixohoxi at 11:15 AM on May 4, 2011


THE HOSTESS FRUIT CAKE IS A LIE.
posted by benzenedream at 11:15 AM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Works for me and I was able to enter my address and get some results.

Not sure if they were the right results, but hey, it was something.
posted by lampshade at 11:15 AM on May 4, 2011


I live in a actual desert.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:15 AM on May 4, 2011


An, even.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:16 AM on May 4, 2011


Judging from the Consumerist writeup, the data isn't reliable anyway. Useful as a starting point for a conversation on an important topic, perhaps—but surely one could start that conversation with something other than inaccurate data.
posted by ixohoxi at 11:16 AM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


"The HFFI working group defines a food desert as a low-income census tract where a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store"

So, if you're grocery store is not large enough, you're in a 'food desert'? This is a weird term.
posted by brightghost at 11:17 AM on May 4, 2011


Works for me in FF as long as I am patient and don't move the map around for a couple minutes.
posted by jet_silver at 11:21 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I definitely live in a patience desert or something. They should collaborate with some psychology and UX researchers to watch how users react when THE FUCKING THING SUCKS AND NOTHING IS WORKING BUT I AM NOT COMPLETELY SURE IF I AM JUST USING IT WRONG GAH!
posted by floam at 11:24 AM on May 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Doesn't work for me either, but what a nice combination physical/road map!
posted by echo target at 11:24 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cool map, but that light pink is too light.

The site has Columbia, MD as a food desert, if I'm seeing it right? Which suggests to me that they should refine their definition - you're never more than a rock throw/Land Rover ride away from some shitty chain restaurant or Costco or Target.
posted by mrs. taters at 11:27 AM on May 4, 2011


Oh. Oops - there are no deserts near me and I imagined that light pink all over Columbia.
posted by mrs. taters at 11:28 AM on May 4, 2011


Oh, never mind, apparently food deserts aren't an issue at all in NYC?

I'm so confused.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:28 AM on May 4, 2011


The ocean is a desert with its life underground and the perfect disguise above.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:29 AM on May 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


I've been to a website on a map with no food.
posted by stenseng at 11:32 AM on May 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Apparently all of NYC is a food desert?

But what about mammals? That huge herd of smooth, taut hairless bipeds. Mmmmm.
posted by CynicalKnight at 11:39 AM on May 4, 2011


I see what you two did there.
posted by likeso at 11:40 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Judging from the Consumerist writeup, the data isn't reliable anyway. Useful as a starting point for a conversation on an important topic, perhaps—but surely one could start that conversation with something other than inaccurate data.

Concur. Looking at my city, where the "Grocery Wars" are still in crazy full swing and you can't swing a dead cat without hitting at least two in most areas, I'm having a bit of a wry chuckle.

The entire University area and its surrounding neighborhoods are highlighted, even though there are three supermarkets and about half a dozen small mom & pop groceries there. Other highlighted areas are golf courses, metroparks, the airport, the shopping malls, and other uninhabited areas. Strangely not highlighted is our downtown/inner city neighborhood, where I know for a fact there are no grocers, only C-stores.

Important topic to discuss, to be sure, but not with this laughable data as a jumping off point.
posted by MissySedai at 11:43 AM on May 4, 2011


Strangely not highlighted is our downtown/inner city neighborhood, where I know for a fact there are no grocers, only C-stores.

Same with Milwaukee. This is BS.
posted by desjardins at 12:02 PM on May 4, 2011


Technically no, but it is surprisingly hard to get a good Reuben sandwich around here, I'll tell you what.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 12:03 PM on May 4, 2011


OK, I see that I was doing it wrong and the tracts weren't showing up for me, but knowing the area well, I still think the data is bogus.
posted by desjardins at 12:05 PM on May 4, 2011


Two other MeFi posts that include discussions of food deserts.
posted by tzikeh at 12:12 PM on May 4, 2011


This data isn't terribly useful. For instance, most of the so-called "food deserts" are places where the population density is really, really low. Some are actual deserts. Others don't make any sense even in terms of their own data. For example, Cherry County, Nebraska is classified as a "food desert" because 1464 of 1553 residents have "low access" to food* but only 2.3% of housing units with low access don't have a vehicle. This hardly counts as a problem anyone should be all that worried about.

But more than that, a little knowledge of local geography makes a lot of these plots nonsensical. Take my town, Fort Wayne, Indiana. There's a good chunk of the city which counts as a food desert. The northernmost one is a commercial/industrial area next to the interstate. Moving south, you've got a satellite campus of a major community college (which presumably has cafeterias). There's a pretty huge section starting downtown and running east along the river which is almost all commercial real estate. Hardly anyone lives there. This despite the fact that there is an area of genuine concern located northeast of downtown, where I know for a fact there aren't all that many grocery stores. But even that is made more complicated in that that plot also contains some of the swankiest blocks in town.

So maybe it's just a phenomenon of major urban areas, right? Fort Wayne's not exactly Metropolis. But take a look at Chicago. There are some truly troubling and troubled areas that show up, but a lot of that is, again, commercial and industrial areas where almost no one lives. One of the biggest sections has a total of sixty-three people living in it, and only 40% of them actually have low access.

I call shenanigans. Any set of criteria which gives results like this one isn't a set of criteria worth bothering with. This is more a "Hey, here are places where no one lives" map than it is anything else.

*How they justify that with most of them presumably living on farms is beyond me.
posted by valkyryn at 12:24 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


No, I live in Scotland.
posted by R.Stornoway at 12:30 PM on May 4, 2011


Looked near me -- the biggest food desert in Southern Maine appears to be the closed Brunswick Naval Air Station. No one really did any sanity checking of this, did they?
posted by rusty at 12:37 PM on May 4, 2011


I used to call Westchester County NY a food desert, and you definitely couldn't find a decent bite to eat there, but that was because there weren't any good restaurants.
posted by bq at 12:57 PM on May 4, 2011


Santa Barbara County, CA, is a "food desert", while that huge swath of unpopulated West Texas isn't?

Yes, I checked about a dozen times for the extra, missing "s". This damn map don't make no sense at all.
posted by Xoebe at 1:33 PM on May 4, 2011


"I used to call Westchester County NY a food desert, and you definitely couldn't find a decent bite to eat there, but that was because there weren't any good restaurants."

God yes. We were there for a long weekend recently and I actually had to apologize to my fetus.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:39 PM on May 4, 2011


Gosh, you wouldn't believe how tough it is to find good Korean in this town....
posted by The Giant Squid at 2:31 PM on May 4, 2011


The area containing Los Angeles International Airport is a "food desert". No shit, Sherlock.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:00 PM on May 4, 2011


Not to mention Davis Monthan AFB, including the boneyard, Tucson Magnet High School, and Tucson Estates Golf Course. Strangely, Tucson International Airport is not, and Picture Rocks, which is in the middle of fucking nowhere and has all of a Subway and maybe two convenience stores in the area.
posted by Snyder at 5:03 PM on May 4, 2011


Ooops, meant to continue, "...and is also somehow not a food desert."
posted by Snyder at 5:04 PM on May 4, 2011


I have a two pronged solution for resolving the food desert problem. One, allow farms to sell from uninspected facilities, but only if they are selling directly to the consumer. Two, invest in urban areas- better transportation, and grocery co-operatives. This would benefit the economies of rural and central urban areas, as well. That's my solution. Vote for me.
posted by Leta at 6:10 PM on May 4, 2011


Yes, I live near a food desert. I do not, however, live within one. I live within a food oasis. I have a meat market just around the corner that also stocks locally grown fruits and vegetables, in addition to the supermarket somewhat farther away that has a good variety of fresh "stuff."

Thankfully, many of Tulsa's food deserts are on track to being eliminated.

Basically, the unaffluent part of town once again gets screwed. Not even Wal-Mart will build up there. They build in the part of town mostly populated by Mexicans and other "hispanics." But build in the predominantly black neighborhoods? Nuh-uh. Albertsons had a store on the north side of town, but then they got bought by Supervalu and left the market. And of course, none of the folks who swooped in to buy most of their locations picked up that one on the north side.

It's that sort of thing that makes me wonder how on earth people can think racism is dead in this country..
posted by wierdo at 6:54 PM on May 4, 2011


wierdo: How do disappearing groceries in the poor parts of town lead to Tulsa's food deserts being eliminated?
posted by floam at 7:14 PM on May 4, 2011


I just moved from a place with heaps of places to eat to a place where my options are pizza, Turkish, or mediocre Thai. Plus McDonalds. Doesn't sound so bad, except I literally never cook so if I want anything else I need to walk about 20 minutes to my old neighborhood or take public transport somewhere. And there aren't many cheap places to eat in the Sydney CBD either.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:28 PM on May 4, 2011


Hmmm, the area directly around the University and then also directly around the Air Force Base are both highlighted in my town and that's it? Not to mention this town is small enough that if one area is a food desert, so too are the rest. I really don't think, as has been mentioned, that either the university students or the air force folks are without institutional options for food. Also, there's a huge weird typo on the map.

Interesting idea (it's nice to see a government site reaching out like this), poor execution (and fail on the lack of a visible definition right on the map page).
posted by librarylis at 8:41 PM on May 4, 2011


It would have been good to mark up that this site isn't useful to those of us outside the US.

Are there similar sites for other countries? Where I grew up, there were huge council estates a good 20mins bus ride to the nearest supermarket. The local Spar (convenience store) sold food, but in a very limited fashion, and almost no fresh produce.
posted by mippy at 1:56 AM on May 5, 2011


valkyryn : So maybe it's just a phenomenon of major urban areas, right? Fort Wayne's not exactly Metropolis. But take a look at Chicago. There are some truly troubling and troubled areas that show up, but a lot of that is, again, commercial and industrial areas where almost no one lives. One of the biggest sections has a total of sixty-three people living in it, and only 40% of them actually have low access.

Worse than that - Looking at my area, it has the data just plain wrong.

I live a bit less than an hour from a minor city. To get to a (major) grocery store, I have to visit that city. It shows my house as not in a food desert. I do, however, live near one, according to this map - About an hour away. Actually looking at the city itself, it shows about a third of the city - An area that actually includes no fewer than two big-box grocery stores and a Walmart as occupying a so-called "food desert".

Neat idea, conceptually, but WOW does their raw data suck.
posted by pla at 6:06 AM on May 5, 2011


Not even wrong.
posted by wilful at 6:31 AM on May 5, 2011


LiB: I just moved from a place with heaps of places to eat to a place where my options are pizza, Turkish, or mediocre Thai. Plus McDonalds.

There are places in Sydney where you can't find good food? I'm surprised.
posted by Infinite Jest at 6:39 AM on May 5, 2011


This data isn't terribly useful. For instance, most of the so-called "food deserts" are places where the population density is really, really low. Some are actual deserts.

Hm, but.. Just because someone doesn't live in the desert, doesn't mean it's not a desert. Assuming this had better data, having a reliable map of places in the US where (for instance. I'm not sure how these guys define a desert, but this is how I would) you cannot get real food in less than say, 20 minutes of walking is useful. Then, you look for where you have the most people in these deserts and address them.

I'd like to se a nationwide analysis more like this. It's not juts food, but there are heatmaps for Portland showing how long it takes people to walk to nearby commercial services.
posted by floam at 7:33 AM on May 5, 2011


librarylis: Interesting idea (it's nice to see a government site reaching out like this), poor execution (and fail on the lack of a visible definition right on the map page).

Nice to see a gov't site reaching out? My thought is how much time and money (ie. your money, my money) go into stuff like this. Strikes me as an ineffectual waste of both. How many people will benefit from this... even see it?

This is the kind of thing they oughta be chopping out of our grossly inflated budget.
posted by ecorrocio at 8:27 AM on May 5, 2011


This is the kind of thing they oughta be chopping out of our grossly inflated budget. hire a real GIS analyst for.

I'm available!! Call me!!
posted by desjardins at 10:53 AM on May 5, 2011


floam: "wierdo: How do disappearing groceries in the poor parts of town lead to Tulsa's food deserts being eliminated"

Through bad formatting. ;)

That second "paragraph" should have been at the end. There is a small grocery being built downtown and the Albertson's space was finally occupied (by a grocery store, unusually) after several years.

I didn't really notice much oddness in the data that didn't come from it being aggregated by census tracts. There are some cases where the edge of a census tract is closer than the mile limit but most homes within that tract would lie outside it, thus making the 'desert' appear somewhat larger than it should.

And large tracts will mess with it too. In a low density tract, it's easily possible that there could be a grocery store within the census tract that most people in the census tract live more than a mile from, which leaves that census tract marked as a food desert. (This presumes I'm remembering the criteria correctly from looking at it last night)
posted by wierdo at 12:09 PM on May 5, 2011


Rereading, I see the definition actually differs between rural and urban and the threshold is lower than I had remembered:
To qualify as a “low-access community,” at least 500 people and/or at least 33 percent of the census tract's population must reside more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store (for rural census tracts, the distance is more than 10 miles).
That seems like a reasonable definition to use in determining eligibility for federal funds.
posted by wierdo at 12:14 PM on May 5, 2011


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