When I worked in South LA, it seemed like there were no grocery stores nearby. Sure, there were plenty of fast food places around for burgers and fries. But when I wanted buy groceries to leave at my desk for the work week, it seemed like I had look far and wide. Why was it so hard to find a grocery store for food but a McDonald's was right around the corner? I was beginning to believe I worked in the middle of a food desert.
A food desert is a geographic area where residents lack access to healthy food options. And lack of access could mean many things: distance, convenience, or low-income. All these things could potentially affect a resident's ability to acquire healthy food options.
I looked on USDA's Food Access Research Atlas to see if I lived, according to the US government, in a food desert. To my surprise, the area where I worked was not a food desert! A grocer may have been within a mile away but it felt so inconvenient when all these other food options were so common. There was a fast casual bakery/cafe place known for having healthy sandwiches. But they were pretty pricey, not really fiscally efficient to eat there often. So I was experiencing a lack of access and I didn't even live in the area! I just worked there!
This inspired me to make the software you see here. I'm proud to provide a visualization of food deserts that captures more of the factors that define the issue. Lack of access is a multi-faceted problem; it's more than just the distance to a grocery store. Poverty and income come to play. Do the grocery stores provide an economically viable access compared to other options available to residents? Also, the density of grocery stores vs. other food options are important. Especially in urban areas where distances are much shorter than rural areas, fast food places could be an easy choice just by sheer abundance. The USDA used a population-weighted centroid to compare distances of census tracts to grocery stores. I was able to find a dataset for Los Angeles that provided all residential zones. So distances are calculated from the residences themselves! I hope to provide a higher fidelity to the food desert issue in Los Angeles.
My dataset can be useful to politicians resolving the issue of food deserts. Los Angeles dictates incentives for grocers to open their doors in South LA [link]. This visualization can help them determine more specifically more regions that greatly benefit from having a local grocer. The grocery stores themselves can determine whether their branch is best suited price-wise to open in a region. Public health advocates can use it to identify locations that will greatly benefit from educational actions for health awareness.