Food Desert Research Pt. 2

Alison Hope Alkona, Daniel Blockb, Kelly Moorec, Catherine Gillisc, Nicole DiNucciod,  Noel Chavez. “Foodways of the urban poor.” Geoforum, August 2013, Pages 126-135.


In the past decade, progressive public health advocates and food justice activists have increasingly argued that food deserts, which they define as neighborhoods lacking available healthy foods, are responsible for the diet-related health problems that disproportionately plague low-income communities of color. This well meaning approach is a marked improvement over the victim-blaming that often accompanies popular portrayals of health disparities in that it attempts to shift the emphasis from individual eaters to structural issues of equitable development and the supply of health-inducing opportunities. However, we argue that even these supply-side approaches fail to take into account the foodways – cultural, social and economic food practices, habits and desires – of those who reside in so-called food deserts. In this paper, we present five independently conducted studies from Oakland and Chicago that investigate how low-income people eat, where and how they shop, and what motivates their food choices. Our data reveals that cost, not lack of knowledge or physical distance, is the primary barrier to healthy food access, and that low-income people employ a wide variety of strategies to obtain the foods they prefer at prices they can afford. This paper speaks to academic debates on food systems, food movements and food cultures. We hope that progressive policy makers, planners and food justice activists will also draw on it to ensure that their interventions match the needs, skills and desires of those they seek to serve.

We seek to understand food choices of low-income people in Oakland and Chicago.

The primary barrier preventing access to healthy food is cost.

·         Most food desert residents shop at chain and discount stores outside their areas.

·         Respondents know about healthy food and understood eating as a cultural practice.

·         Foodways of the urban poor are culturally mediated in the same way as among affluent groups.

I recently watched the PBS documentary Soul Food Junkies, another attempt to ‘explain away’ shitty dietary choices by blacks today as the legacy of slavery, racism, yawn, yawn, what time is it, etc.  

Food traditions are hard to change, especially when they’re passed on from generation to generation. Baffled by his dad’s unwillingness to change his traditional soul food diet in the face of a health crisis, filmmaker Byron Hurt sets out to learn more about this rich culinary tradition and its relevance to black cultural identity.

Because, y’know, 19th century whites, working their asses off from sunset to sundown in an agricultural economy, dined on nothing but caviar and champagne.

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