Tag: food deserts

99 Cent Answer to ‘Food Deserts’


Who really is in touch with the poor, the Fort Worth mayor and city council or the 99 Cent Only CEO? The Fort Worth city council is moving down the tracks towards imposing limitations on low-cost stores, generally labeled “dollar stores.” They are doing so for two stated reasons: blight and “food deserts.” Any citizen can refute the second claim by a simple internet search. Any citizen living in the area could do the media and their own city council’s job, by simply walking through a 99 Cents Only store with their phone camera rolling in video mode.*

The very deepest discount stores operate like every other business that is not in bed with the government. That is, they identify locations where they can sell enough goods to make a profit. By definition, a dollar store is operating on the very thinnest of margins, so they have to consistently offer the stuff people want. Happily, this results in at least one such business offering the very items we are perennially told are being denied to the poorest among us.

The Dollar Tree store chain fills smaller retail spaces in older strip mall retail properties. It is also more than just a place to grab some paper plates, napkins and plastic utensils for a party. Many of these stores include a frozen and refrigerated food section. The frozen section always stocks vegetables and fruit, in addition to frozen prepared foods. The grocery aisle always includes rice, beans, dried pasta, canned tomato products and more. In short, you can put together nutritious meals from that small store, which you can get in and out of much more quickly than a supermarket.

The Mirages In Your Local Food Desert


fig1-blount-co-food-desert-overview-500x330James Lileks’ Bleat this morning got me thinking about this “food desert” idea that the First Lady has been talking about.  Instapundit had a funny comment about grocery shopping in his local Federally-designated food desert the other day, which was the first I’d heard of the USDA’s interactive map of our produce-free arid zones. Well, I decided to check out the local food deserts for myself. Looking first in my home county (Blount County, Tennessee), I was shocked to find a giant food desert right at the doorstep of my church! In fact, our old sanctuary building is inside the desert, although the new one across the street has escaped this lack of privilege. If you look at the first satellite map, the green region is our food desert. What are the red circles I’ve added, you’re wondering? Don’t get ahead of me, now.

The definition of a food desert on the USDA map is a census zone with both Low Income (“LI”) and Low Access (“LA”) to nutritious food. Now, the trick with a survey of this type is how these things are defined:

  • Low Income is a tract with either a poverty rate ≥20%, or a median family income <80% of the state or region’s.
  • Low Access is a tract in which either ≥500 people or 1/3 of the population live too far from a supermarket. Too far is different for urban and rural areas: >1 mi. for urban and >10 mi. for rural.

OK, with that in mind, let’s look at Blount County’s desert of shame. Remember the red circles I drew? Those are grocery stores. The one just outside the east end is Kroger’s, but it’s outside the desert, so maybe it doesn’t count. The other one is a Wal-Mart Superstore, and it’s inside the desert. So how does this area classify as Low Access? Ahh, but this tract is classified as “urban.” Let’s take a closer look at the denser portion of it, near the southern end.