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Detroit and the food desert myth

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  • Brian,

    I agree with the bulk of your post here, especially regarding fresh food and big box stores. Robb Linn did a good job mapping out the grocery stores in Detroit and concluded the following (posted here: http://mapdetroit.blogspot.com/2011/02/blog-post.html):

    - Midtown, Southwest and near Dearborn have a medium to high quantity of grocery options, higher than the county average.
    - Eastern Market leads the county for quantity of grocers in an area.

    But the sobering fact
    "Areas in which the nearest full-service grocery store is more than one mile away – some areas of Detroit are, in fact, food deserts. In total, about 13.5 square miles of the city, or about 10% of total area, fits this definition. About 90,000 people live in these areas."

    So there are still tens of thousands of people in Detroit being under served, but these people aren't being targeted by the potential big box retailers either.

    This only takes issue with about 5% of what you've said, I don't disagree on anything except the complete dismissal of the "food desert" terminology for some parts of the city.
  • You leave Matt's kraft mac alone, jerk.
  • Living more than a mile from the nearest grocery store is certainly a problem, and it is surprising in a city as large as Detroit. But it is certainly not unique to Detroit. I grew up in Lapeer, and for my family, the nearest grocery store - of any kind - was the Wal-Mart 4 miles away. A little farther was a Kroger and a Meijer. And for local, independent stores... well, some folks down the road sold pumpkins in the Fall, and out near Imlay City you could buy fresh rabbit. That's it. And I know that mine was not a unique upbringing. Millions of Americans live in "food deserts" far worse than where was raised. Relatively speaking, Detroit is pretty great.
  • I wish I was within a mile of a grocery store, big box or otherwise, but here in the safe suburbs of Cincinnati (that no one has ever suggested is a food desert) the closest Kroger is about 2 miles away, Meijer is about 4 miles away, Walmart, Target, Whole Foods, Jungle Jims are all farther still. I think that it's not quite accurate to describe food deserts as being within a mile of a grocery store (although I do understand that the farther from a grocery store you get the harder it is to get to it if you do not have personal transportation).
  • Brian,

    I agree with the bulk of your post here, especially regarding fresh food and big box stores. Robb Linn did a good job mapping out the grocery stores in Detroit and concluded the following (posted here: http://mapdetroit.blogspot.com/2011/02/blog-post.html):

    - Midtown, Southwest and near Dearborn have a medium to high quantity of grocery options, higher than the county average.
    - Eastern Market leads the county for quantity of grocers in an area.

    But the sobering fact
    "Areas in which the nearest full-service grocery store is more than one mile away – some areas of Detroit are, in fact, food deserts. In total, about 13.5 square miles of the city, or about 10% of total area, fits this definition. About 90,000 people live in these areas."

    So there are still tens of thousands of people in Detroit being under served, but these people aren't being targeted by the potential big box retailers either.

    This only takes issue with about 5% of what you've said, I don't disagree on anything except the complete dismissal of the "food desert" terminology for some parts of the city.

    I know it's inconvenient, but "more than a mile" is walking distance for many people. In big city context, it's a lot, but a mile is really not very far. The closest place to get food for my great grandmother up in northern MIchigan was about eight miles.
  • If "Food Desert" means there are no chain stores pushing processed crap food, but instead many smaller, local stores selling fresh wares... well... would that we were all so lucky as to live in a food desert. Anecdotally, I've never felt better or eaten better food than I have now that I shop almost exclusively at local places (yay Lansing City Market and Horrocks) for quality whole foods.
  • The concept of "food deserts" in Detroit is largely misunderstood. If you go back to the original stories on the issue, it appears they are all based on one 2007 report - "Examining the Impact of Food Deserts on Public Health in Detroit" (downloadable at http://www.marigallagher.com/site_media/dynamic/project_files/1_DetroitFoodDesertReport_Full.pdf).

    That report defines a food desert as an area where the nearest grocery store is twice as far away as the nearest "fringe food location" (e.g., convenience store, fast food restaurant). Hardly the same thing as saying there are no grocery stores in Detroit.

    My best guess as to what's happened to the info over time is that it's attributable to sloppy journalism. Someone with a big audience misquoted the report as saying that all of Detroit is a food desert, then that article was further misquoted by others down the line. It appears few journalists actually go back to the original source anymore, to check their facts before writing articles about our food desert issue.
  • During the interminable period waiting for a house of our own in Detroit this site is the best reading I've found, and this post is my favorite so far. It required the reading aloud of multiple passages and brought on lots of head bobbing. It will, I imagine, become one of many things I wish I could make required reading for the people who are so perplexed that we want to buy a house in Detroit.

  • Thanks for reading! Good luck in your search and feel free to reach out if you have any questions.

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