The USDA defines a "food desert" as an area where residents must travel a mile to reach an adequate grocery store, and even has a "Food Desert Locator" on their website. According to the agency, East New York doesn't qualify, but city officials beg to differ. While the USDA claims that only 26K New Yorkers are living in food deserts in Staten Island and Queens, the city's own figures bring that number up to 3 million spread over all five boroughs. "We think their map needs work," the city's food policy coordinator tells the Daily News, echoing the city's dismissal of the Fed's census count.
By understating the amount of food deserts in the city, the USDA's numbers could be a deterrent to grocery stores who would otherwise want to open shop in underserved neighborhoods. "We need better grocery stores," one East New York resident who has an ankle deformity tells the paper, "I travel a lot to get decent food…you can't always eat potato chips and Hostess cakes."
Addressing the issue of food deserts is a major issue for First Lady Michelle Obama, because a lack of affordable, fresh produce is a major contributor to the health problems that plague the country. Carts have been set up in Brooklyn to try and stir up support for the issue but they didn't exactly do brisk business.