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Lansing area considered ‘food desert’

February 9, 2011

A recent study conducted by an MSU professor is giving students and local residents some food for thought.

In the study, assistant geography professor Kirk Goldsberry found the most populous neighborhoods in Greater Lansing have limited access to fresh foods.

“Over the last few decades, the best nutritional opportunities in our local food environment have migrated outward toward the suburban periphery of the Lansing area,” Goldsberry said.

For the past two years, Goldsberry — along with assistant professor of community, agriculture, recreation and resource studies Phil Howard, former geography professor Chris Duvall and graduate students Meghan Reed and Joshua Stevens — has used mapping software called geographic information systems to analyze the local food environment.

Goldsberry presented these findings Friday in his lecture “The Lansing Food Environment: A Geographic Perspective” as part of the Department of Geography’s Colloquia Series.

With the area’s best supermarkets and grocery stores located far from the most densely populated neighborhoods, there has been an increase in unhealthy outlets, such as fast food restaurants and liquor stores, Goldsberry said.

A big part of the problem is mobility. Less than 4 percent of Lansing residents live within a 10-minute walk of a supermarket or a grocery store, Goldsberry said, so the tens of thousands of residents without a car face much more of a nutritional risk.

Tim Dempsey, East Lansing’s planning and community development director, agreed there are a number of fresh-food outlets available to those with access to transportation.

“If you have access to a vehicle, you’re pretty much set,” he said.
Meijer, Kroger and East Lansing Food Co-op were stores Dempsey listed as convenient for those who have access to a car or public transportation.

“Food and produce are a pretty basic necessity, and it’s a quality of life issue to have access to those,” he said.

Goldsberry listed Okemos and suburban East Lansing as areas that have the best food environments and downtown East Lansing, parts of downtown Lansing and northwest and southwest Lansing as areas where the food environment is lacking.

He said students especially are affected by the lack of local stores with healthy food options.

“It’s 15 degrees outside, and a lot of these students don’t have cars. So, they’re going to wander out to find food on foot,” Goldsberry said.

With nearby options limited to bars, liquor stores and pizza and fast-food restaurants, Goldsberry said students consume mostly calorie-dense, nutrient-poor food.

Kinesiology sophomore Amanda DeGraaf agreed that because of the lack of grocery stores with fresh produce, most students have unhealthy and unbalanced diets.

“They always say the freshman 15 — (college students) gain that,” DeGraaf said. “If they had more options and resources to get healthier food, then I think they would.”

Goldsberry said students and residents should be offered the option to choose healthy food.

“Just because you live close to a grocery store doesn’t mean you eat healthy,” Goldsberry said. “However, if you don’t have an easy opportunity to purchase healthy food, you’re more likely to be unhealthy.”

As the only convenience store in downtown East Lansing is CVS, Dempsey said the community could benefit from the opening of a grocery store.

He said East Lansing is looking to a recruit a small grocery store to the downtown area. Preliminary talks have begun on this recruitment, and Dempsey hopes within 12 to 18 months solid progress toward obtaining such a store will be made.

“We want to make sure services and products are conveniently located,” he said.

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