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CHAPTER 12 Chicago Marketplaces: Advancing Access to Healthy Food anne roub al and alfonso morales introduction On April 17, 2012, an article by Gina Kolata titled “Food Deserts and Obesity Role Challenged” was published on the front page of the New York Times. This article highlighted two very recent studies from the Public Policy Institute of California and the American Journal of Preventive Medicine that, respectively, claimed that poor neighborhoods had “nearly twice as many supermarkets and large-scale grocers per square mile” as wealthier neighborhoods, and that there was “no relationship between what type of food students said they ate, what they weighed, and the type of food within a mile and a half of their homes.” The New York Times article used this research as a foundation for a thesis that essentially dismissed retail food access as an important component of structural health inequity. The overwhelming body of scholarly work suggests otherwise, and the fact that studies can be devised that demonstrate seeming contradictions illustrates the need for this chapter’s goal, which is to understand the need for the development of a better metric and the actual conditions and correlates of urban food access (Zenk et al. 2005; Evans 2004; Eisenhauer 2001). 192 distribution Food access is an often-cited yet ill-defined concept in urban studies, and attempting to define it is surprisingly fraught with complications. Chief among these obstacles is the use of the word “access,” which by its nature is an individualized notion, yet when used with “food” is often taken to imply a community (or even larger) scale. Past definitions and subsequent measures of food access have cited type and scale of purchasing location and distance to the purchasing location as essential components of a definition, with most focusing on supermarkets and grocery stores as primary points of food access. But all food purchasing locations are part of the larger picture of food access, and spatial measurements are subject to their own local meanings based on the individual conditions of the community. When we speak about “food insecurity” and “lack of access,” we discuss the problem on a neighborhood, household, and individual scale. Even with the recognition that food access is a massive, national-scale problem, one cannot ignore the importance of the local scale to an understanding of how access functions. In the chapter ahead we critique measures of food access that care simply about storefronts. Next we turn to our Chicago case to show how farmers markets have been transformed from a neighborhood amenity to an organizational tool that enhances food access. Then, we provide an empirical analysis of farmers markets that demonstrates that they can be an important tool for increasing healthy food access. Finally, we discuss implications of this research for food access metrics. If the actual goal of defining and measuring food access is ultimately to improve conditions within struggling communities , then the first step must be ensuring that research and measurement efforts align with a meaningful understanding of access in the field of study. food access: not just about supermarkets In the same way that public health is not simply about access to hospitals, food access is not simply about access to supermarkets. How urban populations access their food has been an important issue for a century or more (Morales 2011), but scholarly concern accelerated in 2002 when the journal Urban Studies featured an issue on urban food access. Researchers in Great Britain led by Neil Wrigley used the term “food desert” to characterize neighborhoods in the city of Leeds with low access to supermarkets (Wrigley 2002). Though Chicago Marketplaces 193 not the first time “food desert” was used with respect to food access—our contemporary usage is attributed to a British research group in 1995 (Wrigley 2002)—this article made the term common in research and practice. Our point is that the term “food desert” typically refers only to supermarkets . Farmers markets are ignored in this definition. Given that supermarkets dominate food retail, most research looks to these businesses as a proxy for food access, and there are many good reasons to do so. The ability of supermarkets to exploit industrial and global food supply chains makes them the principal food-purchasing destination in the United States. This supply-chain dominance enables them to dominate smaller venues on price, selection, and one-stop-shopping capabilities (Tamis 2009). Additionally, data on supermarket sales are maintained by industry databases, which are summarized by the North American Industry Classification...


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