Culture Opinion

Are Food Deserts Causing The Decline Of Home Cooking In The US?

“See in my hood, there ain’t really much to eat. Popeye’s on the corner, McDonald’s right across the street.”

The above is a line from “Grow Food,” a 2016 viral song featuring kids rapping about urban farming. Since hearing about them and sharing their story, this quote has stuck with me, especially when it comes to the conversation of food security. Having just fast food around creates the prospect of cooking at home less likely, where you can control nutrition, portion size, and price.

We hear about that when it comes to food deserts, or areas of the country where there are little to no grocery options around. But a recent infographic from Porch may showcase just how little home cooking occurs in those areas.

Photo courtesy of Porch

Above is data on the states whose populations talk the most about home cooking on social media (in this case, Instagram). Based on hashtags gathered, the three states where dinner at home is more common are New York, Hawaii, and California. Of course, these are also three of the states with the highest costs of living, as Porch notes in their piece featuring this infographic.

That got me thinking: Why are people in areas with a lower cost of living cooking at home less?

The belief has always been that home cooking is lighter on the family budget than eating out. However, there are countless editorials online arguing for both sides, with one Business Insider article suggesting that rising grocery prices and a lack of preparation time lead to more dinners from restaurants.

The grocery prices argument makes sense to me, but a lack of prep time would seem to affect the more time-rushed communities of places like New York and California. And yet, they lead the way in terms of those talking about home cooking on social media.

Perhaps, the proportion of people who home cook isn’t related to income at all. Perhaps it’s food access, or a lack thereof, that plays more of a key factor.

To see if this was the case, let’s refer to the USDA’s Food Desert Atlas. You can view screenshots of this map, which shows food deserts in the contiguous US, Alaska, and Hawaii, below. A legend is on the first image to show what the different colors mean, “LI” standing for low income and “LA” for low access.

Food deserts might be larger in size in California, but there are much fewer of them than in regions like the Southern US. In fact, California, New York, and Hawaii have fewer food deserts, while areas where home cooking was talked about less often had significantly more food deserts.

Here’s an enhanced look of the South for a clearer picture.

You can barely drive anywhere in some states without finding yourself in a food desert. Alabama and Mississippi, for example, are nearly entirely covered on the above map and had the third and fourth-lowest available data on home cooking.

Combining the Food Desert Atlas information with Porch’s infographic presents an interesting scenario. Because food access is generally lower in places with a lower cost of living, it makes sense that there are fewer food deserts in California and New York. Factoring in the social media data suggests that regular home cooking, once the standard across the US, is relegated to areas with less food deserts.

This makes sense, considering that in food deserts, your most common option for dinner is likely going to be from a fast food chain, restaurant, or from cheap, nutrient-dense foods that are likely higher in calories than a homemade meal. But does an increased concentration of food deserts in a region really mean that people there are cooking at home less?

Perhaps, though there are some flaws in the data that challenge this argument. Porch’s data, while it is per capita, may not reflect the fact that people outside of California, New York, and Hawaii simply use social media less often. There’s also the fact that both North and South Dakota, the two states where home cooking hashtags were uncovered the least, have relatively few food deserts.

The presence of food deserts may even have nothing to do with homemade meals. If families in these areas are growing food at home, then the need for grocery stores and retailers nearby is moot. That could explain the correlation with the Dakotas, but low food literacy and the modern consumer’s disconnection from our farms suggest that this may not be the case either.

So does food desert frequency really correlate to less home cooking? To answer this question, we need to look and see what’s physically going on in concentrated areas on the USDA’s map, not just on social media. Is home cooking more prevalent than Porch’s data says it is in food desert areas, or is it really all about Popeyes and McDonald’s, like it was for the kids in the viral rap?

If we’re seeing spots of the country classified as food deserts really cooking at home less, it would signify a glaring trend for the world’s largest exporter of food. How could a country instrumental in feeding the rest of the world be unable to provide enough fresh produce and groceries for its own people? How have we gotten to a point where families have to rely on calorie-rich, heavy portions from restaurants, rather than their own nutritional knowhow and culinary skills?

It’s a discussion worth having as the issue of food deserts continues to gain more attention.


These Are The 5 Most Expensive Regions In The World To Buy Food

From 2005 to 2015, the cost of food in the United States has shot up 31.5%, according to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). While it’s definitely an alarming increase of price, it’s important to remember that in terms of food costs, the U.S. is very fortunate compared to some other parts of the world. Based on a new report from the United Nations’ World Food Programme and Mastercard, the average meal in the world’s most expensive regions can require a lot more money than the average person makes in a single day.

most expensive regions to buy food

Photo: Infrogmation of New Orleans on Wikimedia Commons 

The new joint study reveals just how expensive food around the world can be. The analysis looks at the relative cost of a serving of beans and rice based on a person’s average daily income in that region. That value is then compared to the price of that same simple meal in New York City, where you can buy beans and rice for about $1.20, or 0.6% of the average daily income. The world’s most costly regions can be seen in the chart below.

Infographic created by Constantine Spyrou/Foodbeast

To buy that meal of beans and rice in South Sudan, the priciest of the surveyed regions, you need to spend an alarmingly high 155% of your average daily income.

World Food Programme executive director David Beasley told CNN that the report is “a stark reminder of how conflict can create cruel inequalities in terms of access to food.”

South Sudan, one of four war-ravaged regions suffering from extreme famine as recognized by the U.N., definitely needs help with food security and food access, as do many other parts of the world. Hopefully, calls to action to help divert unwanted food, like those made in Anthony Bourdain’s new food documentary, Wasted, can help bring relief to these starving areas of the planet. Other potential solutions include innovative food products and technologies that make food more accessible, like aquaponics or golden rice.

The UN’s new report paves the way for a much-needed discussion on the fight against world hunger, one that hopefully will bring relief to these impoverished parts of the planet.

News Technology

Students Want To Convert Underused Post Offices Into Food Distribution Hubs


Photo courtesy of the Van Alen Institute

Despite being one of America’s largest urban centers and having the largest concentration of food industry companies in the country, Los Angeles suffers from a massive food insecurity problem. Approximately 1.5 million people in LA don’t know where their next meal is coming from, and South LA is considered to be a food desert — where grocery stores are extremely scarce and fresh produce is even harder to come by.

Many efforts have been undertaken by large companies and social entrepreneurs alike to combat these hunger issues in Los Angeles. A new idea from a group of students in St. Louis, however, may be one of the best ideas to fight food security yet.

The project, called “First Class Meal,” won the Urban SOS: Fair Share Student Competition, put on by AECOM, The Van Alen Institute, and 100 Resilient Cities. Put together by a team of students from Washington University in St. Louis, “First Class Meal” aims to utilize US Post Offices slated for closure due to underuse and convert them into food distribution hubs in food desert areas.

First Class Meal 5

Photo courtesy of the Van Alen Institute

The model is simple: the Postal Service’s distribution network is utilized to collect, store, and distribute surplus food from grocery stores and other places to underutilized post offices in Los Angeles food deserts. These post offices could serve as food pantries that can also deliver produce to families in the area who don’t have access to transportation.

The team of students, consisting of Washington University in St. Louis graduate students Anu Samarajiva, Irum Javed, Lanxi Zhang, and faculty advisor Linda Samuels, was inspired by a prompt that asked them to look beyond technology and focus on spatial resolutions to urban issues, especially if leveraging government agencies could be possible. That’s where the idea of utilizing underused USPS offices came in, according to Samarajiva, the team’s leader. She told Foodbeast that by converting parts of them into food pantries and distribution hubs, it reinvigorates the postal service and stretches its role from mere post office to a true community resource.

“Our project, First Class Meal, has the potential to reinvigorate the USPS and more strongly define its role as a community resource, while strengthening the existing network of community food providers.”

“First Class Meal” gets an $7,500 cash prize for their winning idea, and AECOM will also be helping the team with implementation support up to $25,000.

If the project is successful, it could be a great model to implement nationwide, since food deserts are a major problem in several other areas of America. Using post offices, which many people already go to for mail collection or rely on for mail delivery, as a food pantry hub is a simple but genius idea, and would dramatically decrease food desert areas if successful.


This Entrepreneur’s Simple Plan Can Easily Fix One of Our Country’s Biggest Problems — For Free


This is one cause everyone can get behind because it solves one of the most ridiculously needless problems in our country — wasted food. Before reading about this guy, we never realized the shocking amounts of good and edible food that is thrown out every day — food that could feed literally every hungry person in this country for free.

Rob Greenfield — adventurer, environmentalist, entrepreneur and all-around good guy — is trying to save our country’s food for people who desperately need it. In the fashion of a true adventurer, he set out on a cross-country trip on his bike to show just how much good food you can find in store dumpsters. Here is his inspiring story.


When food gets ripe, which just means it’s ready to eat, stores toss them in the dumpster because they no longer look “appetizing.” And this isn’t just an American problem — this happens all over the world. Imagine how much food the whole world wastes. We almost let world hunger exist.


Forty percent of food grown, produced and sold in the U.S. is wasted. That’s almost half of all food, which amounts to about $165 billion a year — straight to a dumpster.


Rescued food in NYC

Our country produces enough food to feed over 500 million people (there are only 317 million Americans) and yet 50 million people in our own country are food insecure or go hungry.


Rescued food in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

 “Right now I am cycling across America eating solely from dumpsters and hosting Food Waste Fiascos in major cities in an effort to drastically reduce food waste in America.”


Rescued food in Detroit, Michigan.


“I’ve learned that I can roll up in nearly any city across America and collect enough food to feed 100’s of people in a matter of one night.”


Rescued food in Cleveland, Ohio.


“One in seven Americans don’t have the food they need yet we are throwing away enough food to feed every hungry American five times over!”


Rescued food in Washington, D.C.

“The most common excuse [from stores] for not donating is that they fear liability but according to a University of Arkansas study not a single lawsuit has ever been made against a grocery store that has donated food to a food rescue program.”



Rescued food in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

But as a matter of fact, stores “are protected from lawsuits by the Good Samaritan Food Act, they get tax write offs, they spend less on dumpster fees, and most importantly they are doing what is right for their community when they donate their excess food!”



Rescued food in Chicago, Illinois.

“While in Chicago I spent time in Englewood, the poorest neighborhood in town, and learned that most of the people on the block … go to bed hungry almost every night. When I explained to them what I find in dumpsters they just couldn’t wrap their heads around it. So I took them out diving in the northern suburbs and we filled their Jeep with over $2,500 worth of food in under two hours.”


Rescued food in Madison, Wisconsin.

“I just wanted to show people what we are wasting. But then people started to take the food and that made the mission all the better.”


“You don’t even have to peek into their dumpsters if you don’t want to. Share this article with supermarkets or simply talk to the manager while you are at the store and let them know that it is important to you, their customers.”


“Food is life and life is too good to be thrown into a dumpster!” Spread the word with #DonateNotDump. You can also read more about Rob’s adventures on his on his blog.

h/t: Distractify

Written by Sarah Lesnar for NextShark