Friday, April 20, 2012

Food Deserts and Big City Living

The Assistant Village Idiot did a good post on a new report on the prevalence of "food deserts" and if this was the crisis it's been reported to be.

While I will point out that the study refuting the idea of food deserts uses self reported data for height, weight and eating habits (check out my previous post on this issue), I was glad to see someone take this issue on.  Food deserts reporting has always fascinated me, mostly because I lived in the middle of the Boston area (albeit in different locations) for about 9 years.   The food desert idea always sort of baffled me, and when I took a look at the USDAs food desert locator, I notice that the only part of Boston proper or the close suburbs that qualifies as a food desert is.....Logan Airport.

I currently live in a suburb that is near 2 food deserts, so checking those out was interesting as well.  One is actually a small peninsula, and I happen to know you have to drive by a grocery store to get on the main route out there.  The other is next to the docks.

For cities, this data gets complicated by the fact that many very small grocers sell all sorts of produce in small spaces that wouldn't make the list.  For rural areas, personal gardens are not counted.  I also liked that the article pointed out that some people researching this have done grocery stores/1000 people, a metric which make cities look bleak.  That's a classic case of needing to review why you actually want the data.  A busy grocery store is not a lack of a grocery store.  Additionally, I have never seen one of these surveys that added in farmer's markets or grocery store delivery services.  While not always the cheapest option, delivery services allowed me (when I was a broke college student) to buy in bulk and save money other ways.  They run about $7 ($5 when I was in college), when a train ride to and from the store was $4 round trip, and a taxi would have been at least $10 (not counting ghost taxis that exist almost exclusively in front of city grocery stores and help you with your groceries for around $5).

Overall, I'm sure access is an issue for some people, I just balk when people who don't live in the middle of cities on a limited budget like I did try to tell me what it's like.  I DO think that before we flip out about an issue, doing research as to how much access really affects obesity is key.  The number of regulations and reforms that get pushed without any data proving their relevance staggers me, and I'm glad to see someone questioning the wisdom in this case.

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