Activity Overview: The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food deserts as areas of the country without any fresh fruit, vegetables, or other whole foods. For the past several decades, the middle class migrated to the suburbs from city centers taking their grocery stores with them, leaving only convenience stores. These stores commonly lack an abundance of whole and unprocessed foods, meaning many low-income and urban families lack access to most of the foods that some take for granted.
Time: 2 to 3 hours
Students should develop their own definition for the term food desert based on academic literature, contemporary discourse, and their own experiences. Encourage them to evaluate the article exploring food resources linked in the Resources section and other reputable sources.
Students should also create a detailed map of food resources in their area, classified by type and annotated with accessibility and time constraints. Then, they should evaluate whether their neighborhood or district is a food desert. How does the students' map compare with the Food Access Research Atlas?
Types of food stores: convenience stores, delicatessens, farmer’s markets, supermarkets, fast-food restaurants, and other restaurants
Accessibility: private car, sidewalked streets, public transportation (light rail, bus, metro/subway)
Time: hours of operation, proximity to schools/work, connectivity with public transit,
Definition: Excellent student work will align closely with “Areas where low-income people have poor access to vegetables, fruits, and other whole foods.” There may be variation in student definitions based on nuances in urban/rural landscapes, access to different kids of foods, or other personal factors. If the definition is broader or more specific, students should provide ample evidence from citations or personal experience that demonstrate that they understand the concept and that they have applied the concept to a real-life use case.
Map: Excellent maps will consider all of the different confirmed and possible food stores in a location, and students will research and present accurate information regarding accessibility and time constraints for these resources. Students should use an excerpt of a digital map (such as Google Maps) or a copy or traced image of a physical map from an atlas in order to present an accurate visualization of the concept.
Food Access Research Atlas from the U.S. Department of Agriculture
Parts of this activity were adapted from the Environmental Health Perspectives Science Education Program lesson: Is Your Community a Food Desert?