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Food Deserts and the Sociology of Space: Distance to Food Retailers and Food Insecurity in an Urban American Neighborhood

Authors: Brian J. Thomas


Recent changes in food retailing structure have led to the development of large supercenters in suburban areas of the United States. These changes have led some authors to suggest that there are food deserts in some urban areas, where food is difficult to access, especially for disadvantaged consumers. This study tests the food desert hypothesis by comparing the distance from food retailers to food secure and food insecure households in one urban, Midwest neighborhood. This study utilizes GIS to compare household survey respondent locations against the location of various types of area food retailers. Results of this study indicate no apparent difference between food secure and insecure households in the reported importance of distance on the decision to shop at various retailers. However, there were differences in the spatial relationship between households and retailers. Food insecure households tended to be located slightly farther from large food retailers and slightly closer to convenience stores. Furthermore, food insecure households reported traveling slightly farther to their primary food retailer. The differences between the two groups was, however, relatively small.

Keywords: Food desert, food retailer, food security, sociology.

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