Site Review: Food Desert Locator

The USDA Food Desert Locator provides a nationwide map of census tracts defined as “low-income and low-access” food deserts.  See Image 1.


This mapping tool has very limited function.  Instead of allowing users to choose and manipulate data sets according to their interests, users can only click on a census tract and pull up a dialog box with a standardized list of statistics relating to population, housing, vehicle ownership, and food access.  This interface leaves customization and data analysis completely out of the mapping equation, which, to me, seems like a huge waste of a tech opportunity.  See Image 2.


All info about the map and the site is on the “About the Locator” page, which, on a positive note, links to video and audio tutorials about the map.  Otherwise, it is a fairly boring Web 1.0 text overview of what food deserts are and some limited info on USDA programs to improve food access.  Possibly both the best AND worst feature of this page is that, at the very bottom, it mentions a more extensive website and project on food deserts called “Food Environment Atlas” that USDA also runs.  You’d think they would provide a link here, right?  Nope.  I had to go back to the homepage and find a (small and easy to miss) link there.  See Image 3.

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