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Why Aren’t There Grocery Stores in High Crime Neighborhoods?

Many food deserts in Chicago are only filled with convenience stores with unhealthy food options.

Imagine living in a place without fresh food markets. Your only options on getting food quick are taking a trip to McDonald’s or buying sugary products at the liquor store around the corner.

Over 23 million Americans live within a food desert, according to the U.S Department of Agriculture. A food desert contains a district with little or no access to fresh produce. Many Chicago neighborhoods face these problems due to low poverty and high crime.

Mari Gallagher, a researcher, conducted a 2011 report that located the food deserts in the Chicagoland area.

Austin, a west Chicago neighborhood surrounds one of Chicago’s food deserts, highlighted in the first map below. The Google map compares the neighborhood’s crime and the nearest fresh produce grocery stores. The red thumbtacks label the crimes reported in Austin on November 30, 2012. The blue place makers represent fresh produce grocery stores.

After looking at the map, the closest fresh produce store tends to be over a mile from any of the crime spots in Austin. Some business owners may steer away to open stores in poverty neighborhoods. They most likely do not want to deal with crime in their stores.

Dr. Terry Mason, the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health agrees that opening grocery stores cannot be done simply as he stated in a Chicago magazine article, “These neighborhoods are blighted and unsafe. There’s a poor tax. Things in the neighborhoods cost more, and it’s more difficult for businesses to operate there.”

According to sociology researcher, Mari Gallager, food deserts causes its occupants to live unhealthy diets. Stated in a Sun Times article, Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel agreed over the summer to allow fresh food markets to drive in these neighbors and sell fresh produce. Mobile farm markers might be the start of helping those stuck in food deserts.

View Food Deserts Vs. Crime in a larger map

Photo 1 Credit: Emily Schiffer / Mother Jones

Photo 2 Credit: Mari Gallagher Research & Consulting Group


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The Hub Bub is a collection of articles, videos, audio, photo slideshows, interactive maps and other media produced by students enrolled in journalism courses at Loyola University Chicago's School of Communication. For more about the School of Communication, our award winning faculty, and our state of the art facilities located in the heart of Chicago, visit our website.