16 Jul

Map of the Week: D.C. Food Deserts

Source: USDA Economic Research Service, powered by ESRI

By Nicole Oveisi

The USDA Economic Research Service provides an online interactive map to spatially represent the relationship between food deserts and low income communities in the United States. Food deserts are often defined as geographic areas with limited access to affordable and nutritious foods. The green areas on the map represent low income census tracts where a majority of people reside more than one mile away from the nearest grocery store. (Urban areas get the one mile marker while rural areas that are shaded green are given a ten mile distance to the nearest grocery store).

People that reside in food deserts are not only bereft of affordable and nutritious foods, but their communities are often inundated with a plethora of fast food and junk food options. Oftentimes, due to affordability and accessibility, fast food is the only option. Food deserts can be characterized as low income, communities of color with higher rates of obesity and diabetes. 

In Washington D.C., food insecurity is no new phenomenon. D.C. is broken down into eight wards, shown on the map to the right. D.C. Policy Center reported that over 75 percent of food deserts amass in Wards 7 and 8 alone.

The map below, created by D.C. Policy Center, shows grocery store locations as points and food deserts as shaded areas. There are only 4 grocery stores in total between Wards 7 and 8. (New data from opendata.dc.gov suggests that one more grocery store has opened up in Ward 7 as of 2020).

Taking a closer look at the demographics provided by DC Health Matters, the District’s Median Household Income is $90,695; Ward 7’s is $40,963 and Ward 8’s is $36,397–the two lowest Median Household Incomes of the eight wards. Ward 7 and 8 also have the highest rates of Black/African American residents; Ward 7 is 92.05% Black/African American and Ward 8 is 92.06% Black/African American. 

Maps provide special insights into the spatiality of food deserts. Understanding food insecurity, food accessibility, and food deserts must be done through a critical race lens. When mapping the distribution of food in America, it becomes apparent how much of a role race and class play in the American food system.