Local food deserts


With all the talk about “food deserts” (no large groceries within a mile) and the newly-invented “food swamps” (too much nearby fast-food), I thought I’d take a look at my town, which has its share of poverty (driven in large part by waves of low-skill immigration).

The official USDA definition of a “food desert” is a census tract where either 500 people or 33% of the residents are more than 1 mile from a supermarket or large grocery store (10 miles for rural). Basically the entire US circa 1940.

The Atlas shows two in Salinas. The first is a well-populated residential area bounded by Market, Capitol, Central, and Clark. The second one consists almost entirely of a golf course, a college campus, a bit of farmland, and an airport, and has two large groceries within half a mile.

Looking at the area around the first, the North edge is mixed commercial/industrial, with more residential past that. South is residential with scattered commercial, ending in farmland. West is more farmland, East is our tiny downtown, including the Steinbeck Center, a massive cinema complex, and lots of good restaurants.

A quick look on Google Earth confirms that the area contains mostly well-maintained single-family homes, with at least one car each, which means they can easily reach the Star Market, the Nob Hill, the Smart and Final, and the giant Costco that are all about 1.5 miles away (at least two of these have delivery options…). So, no, this mostly-middle-class neighborhood is not deprived of healthy food options. By the way, I drive by it on my way to the Nob Hill; it’s pretty nice. Zillow lists homes in this area selling from around $350,000 to over $650,000, and the appraised values are all in that range as well.

West of Salinas is a much larger food desert. It consists of an airport and a former military residential area, the latter of which is gradually being absorbed by Cal State Monterey Bay.

There are some giant “deserts” when you zoom out, but they’re mostly mountains, scrubland, and farms. Yes, Big Sur and Shasta are “food deserts”, gigglesnort.


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