Food deserts map


If you live in a big city, you may simply walk to your grocery store. If you live in a sprawling suburb, you can probably drive in just about any direction and pass by countless supermarkets. And if you live in a more remote area, you may have just one choice for grocery shopping – and not even a particularly convenient one.

All of that is obvious enough. But it’s something that may not quite sink in, without a handy map to help visualize it. So a statistician who specializes in data visualization has provided just that.

The map of the continental United States pictured above may look like just a bunch of little red lines. But, as illustrated by Nathan Yau on his site FlowingData.com, each red line measures the distance from a given point to the nearest grocery store. The lines are barely perceptible in highly-populated, and heavily groceried, areas in the East, Midwest and along the Pacific coast.

But look at those Western states. Each of those little red lines represents quite a drive for many shoppers.


“I pinged Google Maps every twenty miles, west to east and north to south, and asked for the nearest grocery store,” Yau explains. In all, his work resulted in nearly 10,000 separate observations. What he found, was that in more than a third of the country, the nearest grocery store is more than 10 miles away. In some areas, the closest place to buy food for your family is as far as 50 miles away.

Think about that the next time you jump in your car to pick up a few things from the store. If you had to drive 100 miles round trip, you’d probably plan your shopping trips a whole lot more carefully.

That said, the most extreme distances tend to be in places where people don’t even live. “It makes sense that actual deserts look like food deserts,” Yau notes. So pointing out that some places are 50 miles from the nearest grocery store is a bit misleading.

But try telling that to residents of rural areas, who still have to set aside the better part of a day just to grab some groceries. If you have your choice of stores within a few short miles from your home, count yourself among the more fortunate.

Image source: FlowingData.com



  1. There’s that ‘food desert’ the 1st lady was talking about.
    Looks like it really IS in the desert. In Nevada, Arizona and NM. I thought she was talking about the inner city. Silly me.

    • Ok sorry for being snarky-I never answered your question. (and it’s a good one)
      I have more than one grocery, fast food joint AND my doctor within walking distance. But I drive anyway because it is simply too dangerous to walk.
      We are now in the process of planning a move to a more rural location (far more rural) and, YES the grocery store drive is an issue. We will have to buy a second car because of it.
      But everything is farther. The doctor, the hospital, the gas station, McDonalds, the vet, Home Depot-everything. But one thing is for certain. We’ll be happier and safer because of it.

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