02 April 2010

Response to "Food Desert or Mirage?"

In addition to a number of comments both on this blog and on the cross-posting at Greater Greater Washington, we received two very salient responses to this week's "Food Desert or Mirage?" post. One, below, is from Carolina Valencia, Director of Research at Social Compact. The other is from J. Graham, the geographer at the D.C. Office of Planning who created the map referred to in the original post; you can read his response in the comments on GGW. I want to thank both Ms. Valencia and Mr. Graham for taking the time not only to thoughtfully respond, but also to actively make efforts to clarify the information in future versions of the report. Again, I strongly concur that food security is an important issue we need to take seriously, and I applaud the work being done here.

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In response to the post submitted by Jaime Fearer, we at D.C. Hunger Solutions and Social Compact would like to offer a few additional points of information and clarification. We would first like to thank Jaime for the review and critique of the recently released report, When Healthy Food is Out of Reach [pdf]. It is important to note that Social Compact is in agreement that the best way to measure residents’ access to goods and services is to take into account physical barriers (e.g. parks, highways, etc.). However, in the absence of a reliable data source that can provide this information, our current methodology offers an alternative means to measure access.
While the maps developed by Social Compact, as seen on pages 6, 11, and 15 of the report, do reflect all parks in the District, it is correct that they do not depict other key landmarks in the city, such as universities and hospitals. Social Compact has made the decision to not include all landmarks in these maps for the purpose of providing a readable image given the size and scale of the maps published in the report. This decision was not meant to obscure the information provided or mislead readers. All food access indicators in the report are a result of calculations that take into account the total population and households, thus providing accurate, reliable information pertaining to food deserts.
The map referenced in the blog post, seen on page 18 was developed by the DC Office of Planning using the data from this report. Unlike the other maps in the report, it does not include parks. We hope to address this inconsistency in future updates to the report. The on-line report will soon contain the revised map [see revisions below].
Furthermore determining areas that should be included or excluded is not a clear-cut task. As the table below demonstrates, all of the Census block groups, except for one, located in the areas highlighted as areas that should have been excluded have people living in them. While Jaime is right to note that it is possible that certain areas with landmarks are likely to contain (in some cases) sizable ‘zero population’ areas it would be improper to exclude them in the case at hand since there are residents in these areas. 
Additionally, the report maps and indicators DO take into account “easily accessible facilities located right over the border in Maryland.” As noted in the report, the indicator calculations include grocers within the entire District of Columbia and all grocers located up to two miles beyond the District boundary in both Maryland and Virginia.
Finally, please note full service grocers, as stated on page 6, are defined as business establishments with a minimum of 5,000 square feet primarily engaged in retailing food for home consumption and preparation. Additionally, to be considered full service grocers, stores had to contain the following sections: fresh fruits (8 or more types), fresh vegetables (8 or more types), fresh meat (5 or more types), dairy and bread products.” Thus, Yes! Organic Market was not included in this category because these stores do not meet the aforementioned criteria.
(I find it interesting to note that Yes! Organic Markets do not qualify as a full-service grocer seemingly because that do not meet only one of the above criteria—the sale of fresh meat. One can purchase some packaged meats at these stores, but not fresh, butchered cuts. - IMGoph)
Social Compact agrees that information provided at a micro level is optimal and does understand that “Just because something is across the ward doesn't make it easy to access.” However, in an effort to compare access indicators with health indicators (only available at the Ward level) provided by the DC Department of Health, as seen on page 3 of the report, the decision was made to report information at the Ward level. Furthermore, the average distance indicator provides information on physical distance to the closest full-service grocery store precisely to highlight that access does not behave the same way that geographical boundaries do.
Click image to enlarge
Carolina Valencia
Director of Research
Social Compact, Inc. | www.socialcompact.org
738 7th Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003

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