By Paul Gorski
Jim Hagerty’s article, “Schnucks to close two Rockford stores,” May 1, 2014 (http://rockrivertimes.com/2014/05/01/schnucks-to-close-two-rockford-stores/#comment-34778) sparked an online discussion about what is, and is not, a “food desert.” Inspired by the discussion, I found an online tool that maps food deserts.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines “food deserts” in general: “as parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.” See: http://americannutritionassociation.org/newsletter/usda-defines-food-deserts for the quote, a general overview of food deserts, and additional nutritional information.
The USDA’s specific, detailed description of a food desert involves population density and distance from a grocery store. Reader Jon Weber tried building his own food desert map using some of these same principles, and posted it to the article, noted above, as an online comment. However, the USDA has already developed a food desert map. That mapping tool is at: http://www.ers.usda.gov/data/fooddesert/#.U2kqKC9M7Eg.
The USDA food desert map tool is not the most intuitive online map tool I have seen. I found that the easiest way to use the map is to enter a local address using the “Find Address” button, and the map will zoom to a reasonably sized region around that map. Entering “100 S. Main St., Rockford, IL” provides a graphical overview of the food deserts in Rockford.
The USDA food desert map uses some technical language to describe and identify local food deserts. Suffice to say, we have areas on the west side, southeast side, and a couple of pockets on the north side of the city that are lacking access to fresh fruits, vegetables and meats. These are not my opinions, but rather the results drawn on the map. As far as the USDA is concerned, you should not need access to a car to get to a grocery store that sells fresh fruit, vegetables and meats, in addition to other food basics. Based on that premise, I can understand why some of these areas have been identified as food deserts.
This was a reader-inspired column! Thank you for your comments to the Schnucks store closing article, and thank you in advance for any comments made regarding this column. Again, I encourage you to visit http://www.ers.usda.gov/data/fooddesert/#.U2kqKC9M7Eg to learn more about local and national “food deserts.” You may not agree with the map results; if not, contact the USDA.
Paul Gorski (www.paulgorski.com) has been a technology manager nearly 20 years, specializing in workflow solutions for printing, publishing and advertising computer users. Originally destined to be a chemist, his interest in computers began in college when he wrote a program to analyze data from lab instruments he hard-wired to the back of an Apple Iie.
Posted May 6, 2014