I get the idea of food deserts – places where people live where it’s tough to get food.
But I also wonder how overblown the idea may be.
So consider this map:
What I see when I look at this is that my county (Iron, in Utah) is shaded as a food desert.
Yeah … right. Better think twice about whether the metric people are using to define a food desert is worthwhile.
Why is it ridiculous to characterize my county as a food desert? Because Utah is surprisingly urban. Almost all the state’s population is concentrated at the western base of a mountain range that runs north to south through the state. My county is no exception. It has a population in 47K. Most of those people live in Cedar City: perhaps 35K of them. We have 2 supermarkets, and a Wal-Mart supercenter.
According to the heading, an urban are is considered a food desert if people don’t live within a mile of a grocery store.
That includes my house, in a very nice and quite large subdivision, which is about 4 minutes (or 2 miles) from each grocery. Here’s a political map of my county. Naively, you might think those are all towns. Not so: Lund, Modena, and Pintura are ghost towns. Beryl Junction is just that. Hamilton’s Fort is a subdivision. Kanarraville, Paragonah, Brian Head, and Newcastle have a few hundred people each. Parowan has several thousand people, but it also is fairly compact, and has a grocery store.
Here’s the satellite view of roughly the same area:
Perhaps we’re a food desert because … we’re a desert! (Note that all those green circles left of center are hay fields).
It shouldn’t be surprising that it’s more than 10 miles to a grocery store for most of this county. But I think it’s an abuse of the statistic to claim that this is a food desert because people who choose to live out on ranches have to drive into town for groceries.