For ten weeks in the fall of 2015, I fulfilled the requirements of my undergraduate degree as an unpaid intern at Data Driven Detroit (D3). With the wisdom and guidance of several D3 colleagues, I researched and mapped food equity in the Detroit neighborhood of Brightmoor. I have always had a passion for food. Anytime I was asked as a child what I wanted to be when I grew up, I offered the same answer: a chef.
When I was 17, I worked as a line cook for two months and quickly realized that being a chef was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Still that passion I had for food never went away. A few semesters into my undergrad degree at Wayne State University, I analyzed food-related issues and discovered that being an analyst was a way to pursue my passion for food while simultaneously connecting it to community development, (and it wasn’t as tactile and immersive as being a chef.)
Learning how to approach my project was daunting. I wasn’t sure how to frame its parameters given my elementary level of data literacy. Additionally, this was the first office job I’d ever had. Although I knew at 17 that I didn’t want to be a chef, I still had to pay my way through college, and I did so by continuing to work in kitchens. Kitchens offer a very different working environment than that of an office.
However, I began to plan. Though the parameters of the project started out very broad, they began to evolve and narrow as I was able to mentally visualize my intended outcome. I cannot thank everyone at D3 enough for the countless number of questions they patiently answered.
The indicators of food equity that I used for Brightmoor were “food affordability” and “food accessibility”. These were carefully chosen on the basis of literature review. Food affordability, the ability of households to afford to buy fresh and nutritious food, is defined at the block group level using percentage of households receiving Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. In order to define food accessibility, I adopted the USDA Economic Research Services’ definition of low access in urban areas: any area where one third or more of households do not have a vehicle access and are located more than half of a mile from a nutritious food source is considered an area of low accessibility.
In Figure 1, I identified the locations of grocery stores in Brightmoor that accept SNAP benefits along with the percentage of households by census block group that receive SNAP benefits. I also included a farmers’ market that lies just outside the boundaries of the neighborhood that accepts Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) benefits, as well as other supplemental nutrition benefits. I excluded liquor and convenience stores because they do not offer fresh, unprocessed foods (you will also see this employed in Figure 2).
In Figure 2, in addition to grocery stores that accept SNAP benefits, I also identified grocery stores that do not accept SNAP benefits. The purpose of Figure 2 is to showcase, by census block group, the proximity of households without a vehicle to food sources. To measure this proximity, I have drawn a half-mile radius around all grocery stores and farmers’ markets. Based on the USDA’s definition, 22.6% of Brightmoor households lie outside of the half-mile radius, thus defining them as areas with low access to food from a grocery store or farmers’ market.