A “Food Desert” is an area where a substantial number of residents have low access to supermarkets and/or grocery stores. Typically, these are also defined as low-income areas where residents also have limited mobility options for reaching grocery stores outside of their neighborhoods.
The Economic Research Service (ERS) at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched an online tool back in May that helps these communities be more easily identified. Below is a map of the food deserts in Central Ohio:
These areas of limited food access are concentrated primarily on the near east and north east sides of the city, along with pockets on the west side and across the south side. It’s worth noting that a large census tract Downtown is also marked as as food desert.
Bear Braumoeller also recently posted up an entry at the Slow Food Columbus blog about food deserts. An excerpt:
One question that’s worth asking is whether food deserts, and “food swamps,” are really a problem. Put more precisely, is diminished access to healthy food a primary cause of poor diet, obesity, and disease? This issue is often framed as a question of whether people exercise completely independent judgment—i.e. “personal responsibility”—or are subject to the effects of their environment (or “the system” that they live in). The two aren’t really exclusive, I’d argue, since people exercising good judgment should be influenced by their environment. In this case, there are costs involved in transportation and time: it might be possible to drive (or walk a mile) to get lettuce, but if one can walk a block or two to a Big Mac or a Snickers bar, that effectively raises the price of healthy food access relative to unhealthy food. A rational consumer will take those environmental costs into account.
You can read the full article here: “Food Deserts and Food Access“.
Also, below is a short film on food deserts created by the local theatre group Available Light Theatre for their recent “Food Play” performance:
What other thoughts do you have on these areas of Columbus, and what can be done to address this issue?