My Food Systems students just turned in their assignments on food access in New York City (ahem, I meant to say they turned the assignments in 2 weeks ago, and I am finally able to synthesize what they found). There were 3 basic components to the assignment: (1) develop an estimate of their weekly food expenditures, (2) use the food guidelines – in terms of quantities recommended by USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services – to develop a weekly menu, and gather costs for the menus in stores in their neighborhoods and in a food desert, and (3) try to piece together a weekly menu based on the amount allotted to food stamp (or SNAP) recipients, in the same stores as in part 2, both in nearby stores and those located in a food desert.
Doing justice to their findings will take several posts – there are many fascinating aspects of their fieldwork. This post focuses on the dollars and cents of parts (1) and (2).
I have 19 students – and the data below are from 17 of the students; 15 are women and 2 are men. Most live in Manhattan or Brooklyn, with 1 student residing in Connecticut and another in Queens.
- The average weekly expenditure on food was $116, with a low of $60 and high of $167. The standard deviation of food expenditure was $42. These figures represent their “typical” food expenditures, where they estimated the weekly cost based on careful records of food consumed for 3 days.
- The second part of the assignment was to determine what the recommended “thrifty food plan” diet was for their age and gender. Using the quantities recommended by USDA, each student created a menu (cost was to be ignored – this part of the assignment was to measure their preferences for food, within the USDA guidelines). Next, they shopped for the items on their menus in 5 stores close to NYU or their apartment. The average cost – across the 5 stores – ranged from $57 to $102, with an average of $87 and a standard deviation of $22.
- Next they traveled to a food desert, and shopped for their menu items in 3 stores.
Things started falling apart here. Only 1 student could find all of the desired items in 3 stores. Only 6 of the 17 students found all of their items in 1 store – and their average cost was $63, with a standard deviation of $17. The costs ranged from $36 to $82.
So on the face of it, contrary to accepted wisdom, food is not more expensive in a food desert than in well-supplied neighborhoods, but availability is a huge problem.
More to come tomorrow.