First Advisor

Barbara Brower

Date of Publication

Winter 3-21-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Geography






Food security -- Oregon -- Portland -- Public opinion, Neighborhoods -- Oregon -- Portland, Grocery shopping -- Oregon -- Portland



Physical Description

1 online resource (vii, 97 pages)


Since the late 1990's, "food deserts" have dominated the academic and policy literature on food access and food security. Food deserts are defined as areas that lack easy access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food, and are typically measured using Geographic Information Systems and spatial data sets. However, while food deserts may provide a useful measure for identifying food insecurity at a broad scale, they fail to account for individual definitions and perceptions of food access (Barnes et al. 2015; McEntee 2009). Furthermore, the food desert model assumes a lack of agency on the part of low-income populations (Alkon et al. 2013), and ignores other factors of food access, such as walkability, grocery store safety, customer service, and personal preference.

In this research, I examine the food access perceptions of residents, non-profit employees, and business owners in the Lents neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. Although Lents is classified as a food desert, there is also an abundance of ethnic grocers and specialty markets within the neighborhood. These grocers reflect the neighborhood's racial and cultural diversity, and are often overlooked by the spatial datasets typically used to measure food access. The research that I conducted in Lents revealed a disconnect between how the residents I interviewed perceive their food environment, and how government, non-profits employees, and business owners within the neighborhood view local food access. The findings underscore the importance of factors other than physical proximity when measuring food access, and also show the importance of ethnic and specialty markets in the landscape. These findings support the assertion that binary measures of food access often fail to capture the complexities of individual perceptions of food access (Alkon et al. 2013).


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