Introducing the Food Hinterlands

"In Portland, and in the West in general, urban poverty is less of a concentrated urban phenomenon and the low income households living with low food access are really spread all over an urban area," says Leete.

While food deserts may be more of a reality in cities in the Eastern U.S. where poverty is more concentrated, cities in the West have more suburbanized poverty. She argues that these aren't food deserts, but food hinterlands. The issue, Leete says, is not just areas with few grocery stores, but the scattered low-income people who live too far from grocery stores and have few options to get to them.

"The food desert idea has been bandied about a lot and it's been popular, but it's really only a relevant problem to people who don't have access to cars, and that's a certain particular subset of the population. It's not even the poor population, but it might be 25 percent of the poor population," says Leete. "In some urban areas virtually all or some huge percentage of the poor have access to cars and in some other urban areas very few of them do. So it's a very context-specific problem."

And in the context of transportation, residents in food hinterlands are limited. But merely building a grocery store can't possibly accommodate a fairly large population that's spread out across the city.

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