“If a grocery store was going to make a decision to go into a neighborhood, one would presume that they will be looking at income and at land area. That was not the case,” said Raja, who has continued the work since as associate dean for research and inclusive excellence, principal investigator of the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab (better known as the “Food Lab”), and co-director of the Community for Global Health Equity at UB. 

In a 2016 TEDx Talk, she pondered “the possibility of edible landscaping in every public right of way in the city of Buffalo and Erie County,” concluding, “Why not?”

UB urban planning professor Samina Raja

“We are unlikely to remedy food inequities” without a greater understanding of what causes poor food environments, says Samina Raja, associate dean for research and inclusive excellence, and principal investigator of the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab at the University at Buffalo.

She blames redlining by supermarket chains, a plethora of cheap processed foods, and disinvestment by government at all levels for poor nutritional outcomes.

“By using the term ‘food desert’, we make invisible the actor(s) responsible for creating (poor) food environments,” she wrote in her Sept. 30 post. “How did we get here? Without answering this question, it is less likely that we (society) can understand the ’causes’ behind poor food environments, and we are unlikely to remedy food inequities.”

People, including researchers, often throw the term around when having never set foot in neighborhoods they describe, she wrote. In Buffalo, she hears neighborhoods on the East Side and West Side described that way, despite Guercio & Sons on Grant Street, Urban Fruits & Veggies and other urban farms across the city, and a growing number of freedom and community gardens east of Main Street.

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