Food deserts are made up of many qualifiers, but the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) identifies two important guidelines:
“A census tract that meets both low-income and low-access criteria including:
1. Poverty rate is greater than or equal to 20 percent OR median family income does not exceed 80 percent median family income
2. At least 500 people or 33 percent of the population more than 1 mile (urban) or 10 miles (rural) from the nearest supermarket or large grocery store.”
Food deserts are a dynamic problem influenced by demographic, economic, and transportation shifts within urban and rural areas, and vary depending on the infrastructure of the location. According to the Huffington Post’s article on California food deserts, “nearly 13.5 million people – 46 percent of whom are classified as low-income – live in food deserts nationwide” in addition to the almost 1 million Californian’s who live in food deserts.
Although food deserts are found throughout California, a large number of them reside within the Bay Area. In 2009, associates from the University of California at Berkeley released a study that mapped the type of store and availability of nutritious food within Northern California and the Bay Area. Their findings showed that 54 percent of the surveyed stores were convenience stores, and only 19 percent small and 5 percent large grocery stores. What differentiates California from other states is the abundance of major urban cities incorporated into outlying suburbs within the Bay Area. This area of land includes cities like San Francisco, San Jose, Berkeley, and in particular, Oakland in regards to food desertification. These large urban centers are places of minority race and ethnic communities that are often lower income areas.”
Molly Travis, a second-year Environmental Studies major, is a plant/food/outdoor lover who can often be found playing with Nanuk the Farm Cat in the garden. In this paper, she explores the inner workings of food deserts through experiential education by simulating a food desert in Santa Cruz, CA. To see what impacts food deserts have on one’s health and livelihood, Molly purchased and ate only food from a local 7-11 convenience store for a week.