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USDA Intros Online Tool for Locating Food Deserts

A new Internet-based mapping tool pinpoints the location of what the U.S. government calls “food deserts.”

The online Food Desert Locator, developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS), was unveiled Monday.

Simply put, food deserts are areas where people have limited access to affordable and nutritious foods.

Under the government’s definition, which was developed by the departments of Treasury, Health and Human Services and USDA, a food desert is a low-income census tract where either a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store.

“Low income” tracts are defined as those where at least 20 percent of the people have income at or below the federal poverty levels for family size, or where median family income for the tract is at or below 80 percent of the surrounding area’s median family income.

Tracts qualify as “low access” tracts if at least 500 persons or 33 percent of their population live more than a mile from a supermarket or large grocery store (for rural census tracts, the distance is more than 10 miles).

According to the USDA, about 10 percent of the 65,000 census tracts in the United States meet that definition.  Mostly in urban areas, these food desert tracts are home to 13.5 million people.

The USDA, in a news release, said the tool can be used by policy makers, community planners and others to identify places where public-private intervention might help make fresh, healthy food more readily available, one of the goals of First Lady Michele Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative to address the epidemic of childhood obesity.

The Food Desert Locator is on the Web at www.ers.usda.gov/data/fooddesert

© Food Safety News
  • Doc Mudd

    “…a food desert is a low-income census tract where either a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store.”
    Most of those mapped “food deserts” exist for good reason. Smart businesses use market surveys to evaluate a location’s potential for success or failure. No surprise that low-income areas do not support trendy food markets…they don’t support Land Rover dealerships, either.
    And then there’s the absurd notion that childhood obesity is caused by inconvenient access to a decent $5 heirloom tomato or your basic $25 per pound organic pork chops…
    “…public-private intervention might help make fresh, healthy food more readily available, one of the goals of First Lady Michele Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative to address the epidemic of childhood obesity.”
    This “build it and they will come” idea is a fatally flawed Hollywood fantasy. Michele’s $400 million program to truck trendy yuppy rabbit food into troubled ethnic neighborhoods is just feel-good pork barrel politics.
    Heh, pork disguised as fancy veggies…what will they think of next?

  • ICBM

    Let them eat cake, ehh Mudddd…. There for a turn of fortune go you, too, in this spurious economy….

  • Minkpuppy

    Mudd, you lead a sheltered life.
    Around here in Houston, a food desert is a neighborhood whose only source of groceries is an overpriced corner convenience store that doesn’t contain anything that even remotely resembles a vegetable or fruit. The closest thing to a potato you’ll find there is a potato chip, the only corn you’ll find is the corn in high fructose corn syrup, and the only thing that even remote resembles fruit is fruit-flavored candy. There’s more of these neighborhoods than the city would like to admit to having. It’s aggravating as heck when I’m running around town visiting plants and want to stop in and grab something besides a burger. Then you have to add in the danger factor of even stopping in those neighborhoods and it just ain’t worth it.
    A trip to the nearest grocery store or Super Walmart involves finding someone who might have a car or mapping out multiple bus routes which is too much work so they just say screw it and spend the food stamps on junk food down at the corner store. It’s no wonder to me why so many low-income kids are obese when all they eat is high-calorie, nutritionally deficient crap (and that includes what passes for school lunches around here).

  • Gabrielle Meunier

    If its been done and failed, that is one thing. But don’t ill wish it until its had a chance to succeed. Childhood obesity is a huge problem. (No pun intended) And good for Michelle for trying to improve this large issue.

  • If grocers could sell enough to make a living in those “deserts” and if they could tolerate the theft and vandalism that characterizes too many of them – if that were possible they would have been in there and you would be complaining and getting up petitions against the big evil stores and the murderous traffic congestion they’re causing.
    There are convenience stores on the corners in the ‘hood because that’s what can cope in that environment. And they sell product you label “crap” because that’s what sells. The customer is always right, even when he/she isn’t really right at all and isn’t even very nice about it.
    But go ahead, take a chance; quit your job, fill up a couple plastic grocery bags with Michele’s easy money and relieve the malnourished masses by opening a trendy little over-priced boutique food shoppe in one of the inner city food deserts. We’ll soon learn who gets relieved of what and who has led a “sheltered life” up to now. The project won’t last any longer than Michele’s money does. How’s that old song go? “If you’ve got the money, honey, I’ve got the time”.

  • Minkpuppy

    Cut the nastiness, Mudd. Seriously, who is continuously crapping in your Wheaties? You need to take that aggression out on them, not here. Is it completely impossible for you to be civil and polite once in awhile? This is a discussion forum, not a schoolyard playground. If you can’t contribute in a respectful and constructive manner, take your toys and go home. You”re beginning to sound like Bill Anderson with your unprovoked tirades.
    This is about providing affordable alternative food choices, that’s all. I don’t see any mention of gourmet organic yuppy food in this article and that’s not the intent. We’re talking cheap mass produced produce, meat and commodities here. Something inner city folx don’t have access to because the only new grocery stores being built are in the half empty newly built overpriced cookie cutter suburban subdivisions in anticipation of residents that haven’t even moved in yet.
    Convenience store managers aren’t grocers- they are in business to sell gas,cigarettes and beer and that’s where they make their money. Anything else they have there developed out of a demand for a gallon of milk or diapers in the middle of the night or a snack for that all-night road trip. Hence the name “convenience” store.
    These neighborhoods need basic average grocery stores within walking distance that carry basic food staples besides chips, sodas and candy bars. And it’s pretty damn pitiful that junk food is more affordable than food that’s full of needed proteins,crucial vitamins and minerals. That needs to change. Apparently, that’s even too much to ask from you.

  • Doc Mudd

    The realities of entrepreneurship, capitalism and economics constitute a large part of the American dream. Those realities can seem frustrating, harsh, even “nasty” when you ignore them and dream too forcefully.
    Simply building grocery stores a mile and a half apart across the urban landscape is certainly high visibility, but it will not resolve obesity issues. It also is economically untenable – “unsustainable” in modern yuppy parlance.
    Oh well, let’s not fight. As long as we’re dreaming and building with taxpayer money, how far apart shall we space the Land Rover dealerships, then?

  • ICBM

    Ah, forever Muddying the waters with smug, holier-than-thou hubris and attitudes put forth as some kind of “learned” opinion — but all so transparent for everyone else, at least, to see…
    And here — just what is it about redlining you don’t understand?

  • Minkpuppy

    What do you suggest as a solution for obesity then Mudd? You’re big on criticism but seldom do I see you suggesting workable solutions.
    No amount of educating people about the food pyramid and exercise seems to be working and even if education is the answer, there’s still a lot of people that just don’t have access to decent,affordable,nutritious food. Exercise is useless without that.
    I’m not suggesting the government pay for it all. There’s too many on the public dole here in Texas as it is. What I’m suggesting is that the US food industry with all their boasts of feeding the world start providing the people in their own backyards with healthier food. In that, I sympathize with the local food movement (I still think they’re nuts if they think local is somehow magically safer).
    I like the idea of restricting the purchase of sodas, candy and junk food for food stamp users for the same reasons beer and cigs are forbidden. They simply aren’t necessary for nourishment and have been turned from a luxury item/treat into standard fare. However, an affordable replacement has to be provided and made obtainable. I have had mothers tell me personally that they’d love to feed their kids more fruits and vegetables but it’s just too expensive when you’re on food stamps. The system actually rewards them for having more kids which is nuts. It’s a vicious cycle that needs to be fixed and our government isn’t going to do it.
    So what’s your bright idea, Mudd?

  • Doc Mudd

    Well, there’s a rare turnaround: “smug, holier-than-thou hubris and attitudes” are characteristics jealously reserved for themselves by dung-worshiping organic foodies. Surprised you would so anoint anyone from outside the cult.
    Hmmm…since the bursting of the mortgage bubble a few years ago (uh, you heard about that, didn’t you) I would encourage you not to confuse prudent financing practices with “redlining”.
    Declining to fund a new business that is destined to fail – that’s considered responsible banking, once again, finally. And it’s in the best interest of the dreamy entrepreneur, though emotionally he/she may disagree.
    Obviously a different standard with tax dollars…maybe “reverse redlining” to capture that fleeting feel-good moment? Oh, what the heck, there’s plenty more tax money where this came from, a limitless supply!

  • Doc Mudd

    “…there’s still a lot of people that just don’t have access to decent,affordable,nutritious food. Exercise is useless without that.”
    OK, there’s one set of assumptions you and I will have to agree to disagree on, I guess.
    My solution to control obesity? Well, since you asked…
    Consume only the calories you require and get outside and move around a bit. Stop stuffing your face and step up the pace when you’re getting a little paunchy. All you need to succeed is a mirror and a basic understanding of where calories are coming from. Oh, and some self-control.
    OK, so lot’s of folks have difficulty with that.
    That doesn’t mean they’re stupid and there’s nothing to be gained by ostracizing them or treating them like mentally handicapped children. I’m not their mother or their babysitter or their parole officer, even if they are poor.
    Live and let live. So what if they are fat? It’s their choice and, yeah, my taxes and insurance premiums may cover some of their health care down the road. But it may not…what about when some of these couch potatoes outlive us svelte fashion plates? Some do, happens all the time. Who knows, you or I may be the first ones to go vegetative with a stroke or become quadraplegic from falling headfirst off a climbing wall and the fat folks will then be paying our way. If that happened I’d sure feel like a silly turd if I had hated them and bullied them all this time.
    It’s uber-stylish right now to bash impoverished fat folks. It satisfies the bigot in some of us, I suppose, but the hatred is kept fanned to an inferno by beneficiaries of the foodie agenda. There’s more to this pop pandamonium than just wanting to build a few pretty supermarkets in blighted neighborhoods.
    OK, so now you’re sorry you asked. Let that be a lesson to ya.

  • Minkpuppy

    Now that wasn’t so hard was it Mudd?