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Beyond Food Deserts: Mapping Racial Disparities in Access to Healthy Food

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A recent article published in the Journal of Planning Education and Research measures and maps the racial disparities in neighborhood food environments. Do communities of color have less access to healthful food sources like grocery stores and farmer’s markets?

vegetables at the Bayview Farmer's Market

The article, written by Samina Raja, Changxing Ma and Pavan Yadav, postulates the question: How does healthy food access in neighborhoods of color differ from those in other areas? Specifically, they test the hypothesis that:

“…access to different types of food retail destinations, located within a five-minute travel time, in predominantly black and mixed-race neighborhoods differs from that in predominantly white neighborhoods, while controlling for factors such as income, population, and area of the neighborhood.”

bayview farmers marketThe Bayview Farmer’s Market in San Francisco, California


Their SUNY based research actually shows that indeed disparities do exist. Communities of color generally have to travel farther to access large grocery stores, and are more dependent on small corner stores, which are often more expensive and offer limited variety.

We find an absence of supermarkets in neighborhoods of color when compared to white neighborhoods. Nonetheless, our study reveals an extensive network of small grocery stores in neighborhoods of color. Rather than soliciting supermarkets, supporting small, high quality grocery stores may be a more efficient strategy for ensuring access to healthful foods in minority neighborhoods.”

organic squash

The study suggests a number of methods in which municipalities can combat the existing racial food access disparities. The researchers propose that:

…local governments support existing food businesses (small corner stores) and encourage networks between grocery stores and local food producers of healthful food (such as farms, community supported agriculture operations, urban farms, and local bakers).

The research encourages supporting local economies of scale and regionally produced food. More local food production has significant potential for helping to supply healthful produce in minority neighborhoods via distribution throughout a network of small grocery shops.

Encouraging existing neighborhood corner stores to carry regionally grown pears instead of processed pork rinds, and creating localized farmer’s markets may be viable tools to better improve community food security and help bring healthy affordable food to everyone.

Bayview Farmers Market

Bryant Terry gives a healthy cooking demo at the Bayview Farmer’s Market. He is an eco chef, food justice activist, and author of Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen and the forthcoming Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African-American Cuisine.


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