The CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute focuses on bringing healthy and affordable food to all areas of New York. One way they do this is by mapping out food deserts in Upper Manhattan. This project consists of many different small steps which all lead to a larger goal. Though each step may feel small, taken together the project will produce a lot of change.
Food deserts are areas that do not have access to healthy or affordable healthy foods. This often means that the predominant form of food that these citizens eat is processed. This could mean packaged food but is also often fast foods and the like which are not nutritious. This ultimately leads to poor health outcomes down the line. To ensure that we do not have to
pay for costly medical procedures in the future, we should pay up front now in the form of ensuring that everyone can eat in a healthy way. Another problem with food deserts is that they are self-sustaining. This means that they create communities that prefer packaged and processed food instead of whole foods and fresh vegetables. Therefore, we must go into communities in an educational way that teaches people what to buy and how to use it. Engaging the community and centering programming on youth is an often used and successful tactic
To begin, a list of food stores in Upper Manhattan had to be created. These thousands of locations were then found on google maps and linked to a spreadsheet. Each location is linked to a 2007 snapshot and a 2017 snapshot. Then, it is coded to reflect the type of food retailer it is, any changes that have occurred and current status. While each step feels small and the coding takes a while, it is all very important. One intern may only be able to accomplish a few hundred entries but after a while this becomes a few thousand and then, as we progress, we are able to use GIS mapping to show our results.
It is sometimes hard to feel motivated when you don’t feel like you are making progress. However, the small steps are always important and it often takes time to see their true impact. At our site, we often are motivated by the ability to use GIS because it is a cool and novel technology to many of us. Knowing that in the end this will become a tool to bring healthier foods to disadvantaged communities also creates incentive to keep building the database. It is also disheartening to think that I may not be here when this project is complete. Since it is so large and the data quantities so vast, the project could take years to complete. However, I still know that the effort I am putting in makes a difference just as the effort of the person who completes the project will. Every step of the way is important and even though each step might feel arduous, the final product will make everything worth it.