Food Deserts: Your Data Needs Work
While perusing twitter, I discovered this tweet on the topic of food deserts:
So, I decided to take a look at where the food deserts are in my adopted town of Lafayette, IN. Before we go any further, let's see how the USDA is defining food deserts:
So, back to Lafayette: according to the food desert locator, apparently there is a "food desert" that begins less than half a mile from the grocery store I personally shop at. This suggests that they need additional granularity in their data - defining the deserts by census tracts presents the problem as much larger (geographically) than it is, and prevents us from seeing where the true problem areas lie. Because I know the area, I know that at least 1/3 of that "desert" is less than a mile from a supermarket, and one block past the north edge is the location of a truly fine farmer's market. This makes me distrust people on the subject of the magnitude of the food desert problem. Get me better data, then we'll talk.
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:
- To qualify as a “low-income community,” a census tract must have either: 1) a poverty rate of 20 percent or higher, OR 2) a median family income at or below 80 percent of the area's median family income;
- 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).