Rethinking Food Access Research 1: Food deserts. Whose access are we mapping?

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups: Geographies of Food and Agriculture Specialty Group, Cultural and Political Ecology Specialty Group, Rural Geography Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM (MDT)
Room: Grand Ballroom D, Astor, 2nd Floor
Organizers: Joshua Lohnes, Angela Babb
Chairs: Angela Babb


Food deserts are a tangible manifestation of uneven development as post-fordist food retail trends continue to reshape the built food environment (Bedore, 2013). Over the past two decades public health concerns have led to a proliferation of research that highlights spatial disparities related to healthy food access (Walker et. al, 2010). Relying heavily on GIS, food retail locations and types, food costs, availability and quality are paired with demographic data including income, race, gender, health indicators and vehicle access to produce maps that highlight spaces of food dearth. The assumed scientific rigor of the food desert map lends it rhetorical power, yet food deserts have also been critiqued for producing spaces of neoliberal paternalism that bind poor eating habits to low income communities and for naturalizing problems borne out of corporate dominance of agro-supply chains (Guthman, 2011; Shannon, 2014). When not complimented by qualitative methods, quantitative models often fail to capture the cultural and social practices that affect food consumption patterns among the poor (Pine and Bennet, 2014; Alkon et. al, 2013)

This session aims to foster dialogue on whom the food desert framework has historically served and evaluate its place in local, regional and national food access planning moving forward. While there is surely a continued role for geographers to highlight spatial disparities in the food system, the fix may not always be in the built environment but rather a focus on the component social parts producing the problem. How then do we map and communicate the production of food access problems, highlight programs that are reducing gaps and include alternative strategies that have the potential to disrupt the status quo, all while ensuring we do not reproduce existing food system injustices? How can we capture the complex spatial realities of food access beyond retail foodscapes to include other food access strategies such as charitable foods, self-provisioning, food sharing or the many non-retail based entitlements that support food insecure households (e.g. school meals, senior nutrition programs).


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Kassandra Leuthart*, Indiana University, Angela Babb, Indiana University, Examining Food Deserts from the Perspective of the Food Insecure 20 8:00 AM
Presenter Erica Nantz*, Indiana University, Angela M. Babb, Indiana University, Kayla H. Kaplan, Indiana University, Daniel C. Knudsen, Indiana University , Maxx Millstein, Indiana University, A Customer-Side Approach to Understanding Food Deserts 20 8:20 AM
Presenter Yangjiaxin Wei*, University of Georgia, Jerry Shannon, University of Georgia, Analysis of the Grocery Store Environments of SNAP-Ed Participants 20 8:40 AM
Presenter Sydney Giacalone*, Tufts University, Making Food Deserts: The Technopolitics of Mapping Urban Food Access and the Professionalization of Food Justice 20 9:00 AM
Discussant Jerry Shannon University of Georgia 20 9:20 AM

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