Posts Tagged ‘food deserts’

Walmart’s mailer to DC residents

[Excerpts cross-posted from The Brightwoodian. Click here to read full post] Walmart is feeling a little wobbly about the chances that the four sites that they’ve chosen for stores in the District will actually become realities, and here’s proof. Yesterday, the mailer you see here was received in mailboxes all across the city. You’re looking [...]

Numbers Crunching & Food Security 101

This post is the first in a series from Bread for the City intern Allison Burket exploring the basics of food, hunger, and politics in the District.

What’s up with food and hunger in DC? In what ways is DC “food insecure”?

First, some figures. According to the USDA’s analysis, over one in eight families in DC classifies as “food insecure,” of not having sufficient access to nutritious food over the course of a year. Of all households in DC with children, 40.6 percent have had times when funds were not sufficient to put food on the table. The Capital Area Food Bank, which serves over 478,100 local residents, released its own comprehensive profile of hunger in DC in 2010. They find that 1 in 3 DC residents is at risk of or experiencing hunger. The food bank has seen a 25 percent increase in food clients in recent years.

Economic hard times in the city exacerbate the impact of an industrialized food system in which lower-quality foods are produced on the cheap. Diseases related to diet and lifestyle are at an all-time high across the country. In DC, where the obesity rate is 22.2% and levels of residents with hypertension reach beyond 28%, these challenges are disproportionately felt in low-income communities and communities of color. For example, Ward 8, which is 92% Black or African American, has a median income of around $25,000 and an obesity rate of 41.9%. This can be compared to Ward 3’s 84% white population with median income of $72,000 and 11.7% obesity rate. (For more on obesity in DC, see the report from the DC Department of Health.)

Communities that are already struggling to afford fresh and nutritious food might not be able to find these staples in their own neighborhoods. So-called “food deserts” result from policies and development practices that have left many lower-income neighborhoods without access to full-service grocery stores or alternative sources of fresh food. DC Hunger Solutions has led the research on the “grocery gap” phenomenon in a 2010 report that identifies the areas in the city, particularly Wards 7 and 8, most impacted by uneven distribution of full-service grocery stores and draws connections to issues of unemployment, obesity, and the local economy. The DC government has launched an effort to combat this phenomenon, though based on experiences with similar initiatives in New York and Pennsylvania, reducing food deserts alone is insufficient to bring down obesity rates.

More than just hunger at a given moment in time, these studies capture the impact of what is increasingly recognized as a broken food system. If recent headlines are any indication, it’s clear that the factors affecting our ability to feed ourselves in a way that is healthy, equitable, and sustainable are complicated and difficult to track, predict, or control: housing and development trends in DC make it difficult for DC residents to access food pantries and federal nutrition programs; battles on the national level over funding for school lunches and for SNAP benefits have been drawn-out and wonky; though farmers and consumer groups across the country have recently been putting up quite a fight, corporate concentration across the food and agriculture sectors continues to result in lower prices for farmers and higher prices for consumers.

So what would it mean to talk about “food security” in DC? According to the standard definition, a community is “food secure” when all residents obtain a “safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice.” This perspective is useful in that it considers all the factors that influence the availability, cost, and quality of food to area households, but gosh, trying to think about all those factors and how to make them work better for DC can be a little overwhelming.

The good news is that, while there’s a lot of work to be done, there are a lot of folks already doing it. Recent developments at Bread for the City, as well as a range of stellar projects, programs, and legislative victories captured on the DC Food For All blog, lead me to believe that DC can take the power of making healthy, sustainable food choices into its own hands.

Check in next week as I begin to explore the federal nutrition programs serving District residents!

FEED DC Act: Poised to Pass

After the first round of votes last week, the DC Council is expected deliver the final to vote this Tuesday to approve the FEED DC Act, putting in place a program to support healthy food access across the district. Based on the public-private partnership programs designed to draw full-service grocery stores to underserved areas in [...]

Do we need a grocery ambassador or a city-wide food security/foodways plan?

[By Richard Layman, cross-posted from Urban Places and Spaces.]

In the round of the zoning update on food issues, I didn’t see fit to submit comments about urban agriculture, even though I guess I should have. Evidently, it’s still gonna be close to impossible to have poultry, not to mention there is little discussion of urban orchards, urban forestry, and other issues, even though people are concerned about “food deserts” and access to fresh foods.

According to the Washington Business Journal, in Cheh introduces “grocery ambassador” bill, Councilmember Mary Cheh has introduced legislation on the topic, calling for a grocery czar amongst other steps, but I think the legislation is somewhat narrowly conceived because this issue is about more than just trying to attract some grocery stores.

The real issue is a comprehensive plan for food security and foodways in the city. Grocery stores are but one piece.

The Community Food Security Coalition is an organization broadly focused on food access. Toronto and a number of other communities across North America have created “Food Policy Councils” to focus on food access at the local level, especially in urban places, and work to make more direct links between urban and rural food policy. (The bookThe Edible City looks broadly at Toronto’s foodways, food policies, and food industries. This paper, Food Policy Councils: The experience of five cities and one county, from 1994 discusses the disconnection of cities from foodways policymaking.)

Food Trust in Philadelphia has pushed food security and initiatives to increase the availability of fresh foods and supermarkets in underserved areas in the city and state.

Finally, the Economic Research Service of the USDA has created aCommunity Food Security Assessment Toolkit which provides a more systematic method for evaluating community food security and a planning framework for improvements.

The issue is tricky.

First, there is a conceptual problem with the food desert issue, because of how new urbanists and such are defining the need for access–a grocery store within easy walking distance–and the reality of how the supermarket industry is organized and focused on providing stores of 50,000+ square feet, serving retail trade areas of 50,000+ residents in a retail trade area five miles in diameter.

The reality is that not every neighborhood is large enough to support a full line grocery store the way that the grocery industry is set up to “deliver” supermarkets. Plus, many people are cost-conscious and end up patronizing stores where prices are lower (as opposed to smaller neighborhood-based stores). And the industry has worked hard at closing smaller, neighborhood stores in favor of larger single stores serving many neighborhoods.

Second, there are many grocery stores accessible to DC residents in neighborhoods that are seemingly understored, but the stores happen to be located just outside of the city in Maryland.
Signs of Change Line the Shelves -
Washington Post image from the 2007 article “Signs of Change Line the Shelves.”

Third, we need to look at farmers markets and public markets more systematicaly as a way to deliver fresh foods to residents, not so much in the higher-income areas of the city, but in the “food desert” areas. Although these areas are hard places to make such markets work if their prices are higher than typical supermarket prices.

Food deserts in D.C.: Mirage or not?

By Livia Navon

Although the concept of a food desert has been around for a while, it seems like these days, they are showing up more and more in public discourse. Michelle Obama’s recent ‘Let’s Move’ Campaign has highlighted the issue which might explain all the buzz.

So, what exactly is a food desert? The 2008 Farm Bill defined a food desert as an “area in the United States with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, particularly such an area composed of predominantly lower income neighborhoods and communities. ” But as a recent USDA report explains, a food desert is difficult to define in a straightforward and quantifiable way. One reason is that “nutritious” is a difficult concept.  A candy bar has a lot of calories and thus, one could argue, offers a lot of nutritional value. But it probably does not fit most people’s idea of healthy.

Also, what is “limited access?”  If you can take a bus to the grocery store, is that sufficient access? What if you have to take two buses and then walk? Some people complain about not being able to find a good cup of coffee in a certain area. Imagine if you could roam for miles without finding anything to eat or drink that wasn’t prepackaged or heavily processed.

The USDA report uses a distance of one mile from a grocery store as the definition for access.  A figure from the report (above) shows the situation in the Washington, D.C. Metro area.  The areas in dark outlines represent areas defined as low income.  The circles represent areas that lie within a one-mile radius of a grocery store.  Shading corresponds to the number of people living in the area. The darker the color, the higher the population.

Although some areas of Southeast DC meet the criteria of the report for being food deserts based on the report’s criteria, most of DC would appear to have adequate access to food.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much for an area to become a food desert. For example, in Northeast DC, where the local Safeway recently closed down, there is another grocery store located within in a one mile radius. However, some residents expressed the desperation for groceries associated with living in a food desert.