The USDA defines a “food desert” as a census block or tract where 500 people and/or 33% of the population is more than a mile from a large/full-sized grocery store (10 miles for non-urban areas). This phenomenon is considered by the USDA as a leading cause of malnourishment and obesity among poor and/or rural populations, as the only regularly accessible food is often in the form of preprocessed items from small convenience stores.
Earlier this week, the USDA released an online tool that allows people to visualize what parts of the country are considered food deserts. The tool isn’t perfect–some people living in the pink-highlighted areas might actually live across the street from a grocery store, and likewise, some people living in the non-highlighted areas might have a ways to go to get to a store–but for the sake of the definition, it does a pretty good job of showing what parts of the country have limited access to affordable, healthy foods.
I found it interesting because most of downtown Fort Worth is a food desert, including where I live. The immediate area is pretty affluent due to some significant redevelopment (Fort Worth has a serious urban blight problem that they’re just now beginning to correct), but the areas immediately to the east and south I am told are more reflective of how this neighborhood was less than 10 years ago. The nearest large grocery store is a 5-minute drive, which works out to a 20-30 minute walk at a minimum, which is not ideal. The neighborhoods to the south and east of me have further to go. On the bright side, for my neighborhood, anyway, is that a local chain is opening a grocery store about a half a mile away later this year, and I’ve heard rumors that Trader Joe’s is looking for premises in the area, as well.
It also occurred to me that Georgia Tech and Home Park (my most recent homes before moving to Texas) were considered food deserts until Publix built stores on Spring Street and in Atlantic Station, because before that the nearest stores were the Publix on North and Kroger on Howell Mill, leaving the large majority of the populations of those areas well over a mile from the nearest grocery store. I was also surprised to discover that where my parents live is apparently considered a non-urban area for the purposes of this definition (despite being less than 10 miles from the primary city center in the second largest metropolitan area in Georgia), and thus the 10-minute drive to the nearest grocery store is considered acceptable.
Do you live in a food desert? Did you used to? Is there anything else about this map that you were surprised by?