Why Save-A-Lot Doesn’t Count in New Orleans’s Downtown Food Desert (Gambit Weekly. July 2015).

St. Roch resident David Roe says he lives in a food desert. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says that’s not the case. The nearest food desert to the corner of St. Roch and St. Claude avenues, site of the recently opened St. Roch Market, starts just northeast of the census tract — pretty much at the front door of the Save A Lot grocery store on Almonaster Avenue, north of North Claiborne Avenue.

Whether an area is considered a food desert is determined by how many low-income residents live in each census tract, how many cars they own and the location of the nearest grocery store from the center of each tract. The last USDA map of food deserts was compiled from 2010 census data.

“We hope it is close to the truth,” says Shelly Ver Ploeg, an economist at the USDA. “We are in the process of updating the map for 2015.”

Ver Ploeg says she has no data before 2010, but that the New Orleans Healing Center’s Food Co-Op, which opened in 2009, may have eliminated the “food desert” designation from the area, even though prices are higher than in standard supermarkets. According to the USDA’s map, Save A Lot doesn’t help the St. Roch neighborhood, nor does it count toward the census tract where it is located.

“Our map doesn’t take the cost of the food into account,” Van Ploeg says, explaining that the area around that Save A Lot remains a food desert because the store sits more than 1 mile away from the center of its census tract.

The St. Roch Market — with its many prepared foods and chic displays — has been a controversial development in a neighborhood underserved by traditional supermarkets. But those who complain that the new St. Roch Market is not a grocery store, or that the New Orleans Food Co-Op across the street in the New Orleans Healing Center is too expensive, need travel only another six-tenths of a mile to the Almonaster Save A Lot, or 1 mile west to the smaller but locally owned Circle Food Store on North Claiborne and St. Bernard avenues. CLICK HERE to read the rest of this piece at Gambit Weekly…

Or watch this Save-a-Lot employee training video: 

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