The ecology of food deserts
During the second half of the twentieth century there has been a transformation in the way groceries are bought in Britain. Global economic, social, and demographic trends have helped the supermarket, a shopping institution unknown in 1950s Britain, to gain over three quarters of the share of groceries bought in the UK in 2003. Accompanying this has been a major decline in the number of small neighbourhood shops selling groceries, and especially in those selling fresh fruit and vegetables. Because many of the supermarkets have tended to locate in areas away from the residential districts where the smaller shops have closed, a new term, `food deserts', entered the language in the 1990s. Lack of easy access to certain foods, the fruit and vegetables that the remaining local shops tended not to stock in any great variety or quantity, has combined with developments in technology, society, and the economy to reduce the dietary quality of many people. The poor, elderly, disabled, and other disadvantaged groups are especially affected, but the wealthy are not immune to this either. This lack of access can be seen as a problem of social exclusion for those affected, and there are wider costs imposed on society. A large part of those costs is related to health problems caused by a poor diet. There are also implications for crime, housing, neighbourhood sustainability, and transport. Those affected, and their families, may suffer psychologically too. This research has investigated a variety of geographical areas and people from different socio-economic backgrounds to discover which groups food deserts may affect, and whether some groups might have been overlooked by earlier research. The multiple factors that may contribute to lack of access to a nutritious diet are examined in order to build a picture of what may cause food deserts, how people cope with their effects now, and what measures are possible, within the current economic climate of globalisation and neo-liberal governance, to alleviate or eliminate such food deserts. A classification of food deserts is proposed, and how this classification may be of use as a policy tool to alleviate food access problems.