USDA launches food desert locator

If you live in a “food desert,” you’re among more than 13 million Americans—most often low-income families—who have little if any fresh food nearby, and the USDA has launched a tool to prove it.

The “Food Desert Locator” is an interactive map, which shows a population’s proximity to supermarkets. The census tool designates an area as a food desert if it meets certain criteria: At least 33 percent of residents in urban settings must live more than one mile from a supermarket or grocery store, and in rural areas, it’s more than ten miles.

According to the locator, an overwhelming majority—82 percent—of America’s food deserts are located in urban areas—a plight that has stricken low-income and high crime neighborhoods, where the only source of nearby groceries are convenience stores, gas stations or liquor stores.

In cities like Los Angeles, while there are a considerable number of official food deserts, area farmers are making weekly visits with farmers markets that bring a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables to the community. Often lower priced and always fresher than supermarkets, these markets are one answer to the call for healthy food made accessible to every American, but not enough to fix the problem.

Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, which has helped the USDA to enact several school food upgrade programs that will begin to provide healthier meals for student lunches, and sometimes even breakfast, was part of the inspiration behind the tool. Not only is the Food Desert Locator designed to help people understand the problem millions of Americans are facing, but it is also in part a call to action, in hopes that in addition to farmers markets, more businesses will find ways of bringing healthy food to all Americans.

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