Sep 022014
US Food Desert Map

Have you ever heard the term ‘Food Desert”?  There is an estimated 23.5 million people that live in food deserts in the US and Canada.  It’s actually quite disturbing that, we, as a country, have people who are unable to obtain the proper nutrition due to location and economic status.

U. S. Department of Agriculture

So what exactly is a food desert?

As defined by the USDA:

Food deserts are defined as urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options. The lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.


That said, food deserts have to meet two criteria to be considered a food desert per Census tracts:

The first being:

They qualify as “low-income communities”, based on having: a) a poverty rate of 20 percent or greater, OR b) a median family income at or below 80 percent of the area median family income; AND

The second being:

They qualify as “low-access communities”, based on the determination that at least 500 persons and/or at least 33% of the census tract’s population live more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store (10 miles, in the case of non-metropolitan census tracts).


Why is it that you need to be educated on food deserts?

Just as there are countries that are full of malnutritioned individuals and have little or no food, so do we right here in the US & Canada. The sad thing is, is that quite often people will criticize over-weight children and adults – not thinking twice about how these individuals may possibly be suffering from malnutrition.

And although we have more resources to help our own (food stamps (SNAP), WIC, food pantries, automobiles etc.) than other countries may not have, the foods that are available to those in food deserts receiving benefits are often from little stores that don’t get fresh food/meats in often, or at all. The foods these individuals are often faced with are packaged foods that don’t hold the nutritional value that one’s body needs.

In recently coming across a Facebook group thread where someone was criticizing others for buying a lot of cereals and other boxed meals…I was a bit taken back and thus the reason for this post.  This individual had no idea of the circumstances this other person faces every day.  No idea where they live .  No idea how far a real grocery store exists in their area.  No idea what their finances were.  No idea if they had transportation to make it to a traditional grocery store.  And – no idea if these people lived in a food desert – yet were criticizing what they fed their family.

This person also was criticizing others by saying these foods cause diabetes and parents shouldn’t be feeding their kids cereals, Hamburger Helper, and foods of the like.  Okay – well, I’m in total disagreement with that (that’s my opinion), as diabetes is not brought on by those factors alone.  Diabetes goes deeper than that.  Granted these foods don’t help, but what is one to do when there aren’t many choices to choose from, if they were to be a victim of a food desert?

And should it be that the people she were criticizing lived in a food desert – those individuals are faced with more than just diabetes.  They are faced with multiple vitamin deficiencies.  Heart issues.  Being overweight (malnutrition often presents itself as one being overweight).  Thyroid disease.   Yet – all these people are trying to do is survive. Survive with a basic necessity some people take for granted.

I urge you to learn more about food deserts.  Everyone needs to be educated on these.  Visit the USDA’s website: (Look to the right of the page for more resources to read).

If you are reading this and live in a food desert – we’d love for you to share your experience with us.  What is most challenging for you?  What is frustrating for you?  How do you manage?

  10 Responses to “Food Deserts – What Are They?”

Comments (10)
  1. Also note, food deserts actually started across the Atlamtic – in Glasgow Scotland to be precise (see A respondent to the Low Income Project Team said in 1996 “Its a right food deserts round here’, meaning very few local shops sold fresh fruit and veg, but lots of proecssed food,takeaways etc. The term got in the UK media from there and was researched extensively in Leeds and other areas, before it got across the pond to the USA.

  2. Wow! You opened my eyes! I never knew about this. I live in the city and have always taken for granted the fact I have access to all kinds of stores and foods.

    • I’ve done my deed for the day then 🙂 You learned something from this post. I have always said that if a post helps just one person – educates them – whatever the case may be – I’m good. Real good! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

  3. I never heard this term and learned a thing or two. My first career was in nutrition, before nursing and was away of the hunger problem though.

  4. wow this is sad and awful , they really need to be able to get the healthy food they need and we need to spread the word to help………. its sad when our country is just not doing enough.. thanks for share @tisonlyme143

  5. I would like to say that I live about a mile. FROM the grocery store but I live in a New England town in public housing and most of us have no cars and over 60. We can’t walk everyday to the store and can’t carry a week of groceries. Iwatched a PBS special on food deserts but they were allowed to garden on vacant land. Not here because I was told we don’t need to we have food pantry. We eat lots of cakes from Need everyday and pastries from Parnara bread but all the fruit and vegetables are from Trader Joe’s but they are half rotten. You have to eat it now not tomorrow. We have a farmers market, in other towns you can use your food stamps, pay. 1.00 and get 2.00 of produce, our town won’t do the paperwork because everyone here does well and they don’t need to that, we can’t even use our food stamps at all at our farmers market. People don’t pay attention because they think they’ll catch it. Enough of my mouth. You wrote a lovely, informative article and I hope people realize it’s closer than they think.

    • Ls – It’s stories like yours that people need to hear because you live that life every day – it’s not some TV show that one is getting the information from – it’s a real live human being who struggles just to obtain the basic necessities humans need to survive. I thank you for sharing your story. I often wonder if lawmakers were put in your shoes – how long would it take before there was a change of some sort for those who live in food deserts.

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