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Deserting the Food Desert: An Evaluation of Food Access Methodology

Authors: Brandon Katz*, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Bhuwan Thapa, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Gianni Petino, University of Catania, Jeffrey Wilson, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
Topics: Geography and Urban Health, Geographic Information Science and Systems, Urban Geography
Keywords: Food Desert, Food Access, Food Security, Methodology, Critical Evaluation
Session Type: Poster
Day: 4/8/2020
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 4:35 PM
Room: Virtual Track 3
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This project presents a critical evaluation of food desert delineation methods. Mapping food deserts provides useful insights for understanding some variables that affect access to healthy and affordable food by low-income communities. However, criteria used for food desert delineation vary both within the US and internationally. Furthermore, methods for delineation have not dealt extensively with several recurring problems in geographic research including non-stationarity, temporal variation, the uncertain geographic context problem, and the modifiable areal unit problem. This project critically reviews the food desert concept including a discussion of its origins, diffusion, and societal reception over the past twenty years, as well as methodological and conceptual critiques. Two urban areas are used as case studies to examine different variables used in food desert definitions: Indianapolis, Indiana (USA) and Catania, Sicily (Italy). These two urban environments provide opportunities to evaluate contrasting circumstances affecting access to healthy food, as well as demonstrate the complexity involved with identifying food deserts.

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