Food Deserts 101


FOOD DESERT: Food deserts are defined as urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food.

Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options.

The lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.
Source: US Department of Agriculture

Believe it or not, I’m frequently confronted by (white) vegans who are enraged that certain groups (low-income folks, rural residents, brown and black people) aren’t becoming vegan in droves. Their assumption is usually that these people just don’t care about animal rights, the environment or even their own health or when it comes down to it, those people are plain lazy.

“A can of beans only costs a few cents,” the refrain goes.


The awareness just isn’t there in many vegan circles and in the country at large that many Americans have little access to affordable, wholesome, plant-based foods. Cheetos, sugar cereals and ramen noodles – YES. Fresh produce or even an affordable can of the aforementioned beans – NO.

Often when I’m asked to speak, I realize that my mention of food deserts is my audience’s first encounter with the concept.

I hope this section of The Sistah Vegan Project will help illuminate what so many people are facing when it comes to making good food “choices.”

* This is an ongoing effort.



US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Environment Atlas
This infographic tool displays data about food deserts, as well as many other food factors such as food prices, food assistance levels, prevalence of fast food restaurants and farmers’ markets. You can zoom in on specific localities and cross-correlate information.

USDA Food Desert Locator

How to Find A Food Dessert Near You
About both of the USDA tools listed above.


The Grocery Gap: Who Has Access to Healthy Food and Why It Matters (The Food Trust)

The New Face of Hunger (National Geographic)

Structural Barriers to Local Food Part I: Rural Food Deserts

Structural Barriers to Local Food Part II: Urban Food Deserts


New York City | Philadelphia | Washington DC | Chicago | Minneapolis | Atlanta | Miami | Los Angeles | San Francisco | Dallas



Photo Credits: Convenience store on Jackson [Chicago] by Brad Hoc via Flickr under Creative Commons License.
Bodega in East NY by Paul Lowry via Flickr under Creative Commons License.

Slider image – Bronx bodega candy by Pat Guiney via Flickr under Creative Commons License.

6 thoughts on “Food Deserts 101

  1. The USDA links are good references! But I’ve seen a white vegan dismiss another USDA link about food deserts because the USDA also says it’s OK to eat meat and dairy.

    Ever wonder if some white middle–or-upper-income people jump on the anti-speciesism mini-bandwagon just to yell at low-income people or color to check their privilege (human privilege)?

  2. Hi,

    I have recently been learning more about food deserts and as a Vegan advocate I am always trying to learn ways that I can improve the way I approach things. I wonder what my role is when it comes to these issues. What are ways in which I may be able to help and have an influence in helping people living in food deserts have access to healthy (and Vegan) food? I guess what I’m saying is, what can I do, besides just raise the awareness of food deserts to Vegans and non-Vegans alike?

  3. Food deserts really are a class issue as well, something that people in the US and Canada are not comfortable discussing. I’m a poor, disabled, Canadian living in a large urban city, living in what until very recently was a food desert. Classism isn’t supposed to happen in North America. We’re supposed to have left that behind in Europe. Please keep bringing up this issue in the vegan community. The community has to include everybody, not just the rich, white, healthy people for it to succeed in the objective, of ultimately ending animal suffering and abuse.

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