Food deserted: race, poverty, and food vulnerability in Atlanta, 1980 - 2010

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Ross, Gloria Jean
Winders, William P.
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The concept of food deserts, as a measure of low-income neighborhoods with limited access to affordable and healthy produce, can be helpful as a tool to quantify and compare food vulnerabilities, as many recent studies have demonstrated. However, the term masks the role that systems of racism and capitalism have played in producing food vulnerabilities. To explore this gap in the literature, this dissertation addresses two central research questions. The first central research question asks, what are the influential demographic and spatial patterns that have shaped supermarket access in low-income neighborhoods across Atlanta from 1980 to 2010? This study addresses this question using geo-spatial and quantitative analytical methods. The second research question asks, how have the movement of capital, the influence of urban political regimes, and community-based organizations shaped food environments in historically black neighborhoods in Atlanta from 1980 to 2010? These relationships are explored through a qualitative analysis of community redevelopment plans for two case study neighborhoods. The study reveals several findings. First, race, poverty, and population density spatially overlap with shifts in Atlanta's supermarket locations. Atlanta has a clear racial and income dividing line that splits the city into higher-income and majority white neighborhoods to the north and low-income/poor and majority black neighborhoods to the south, which has intensified over the thirty-year study period. Second, racial segregation and the concentration of poverty reinforce the vulnerability experienced by low-income neighborhoods, and produces limited access to supermarkets and other neighborhood retail outlets. Third, even though neighborhood redevelopment plans contained resident's concerns about limited supermarket access, the plans' visions often required both the public sector and private investment. Fourth, the concept of food deserts is too limited. Instead, a new conceptual understanding is needed to identify processes and structures that have produced whole communities of people that have been food deserted.
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