The ACSP Conference invited Graduate students to prepare poster presentations highlighting their research. Co-authoured with Leia Minaker, Patrycia Menko shares research on The Retail Food Environment in Toronto, ON.
Description: Food insecurity is closely linked to many health concerns, including increased likelihood of obesity, chronic diseases like diabetes or major types of cardiovascular disease, and poor mental health. The retail food environment (RFE) is an important determinant of population health but has traditionally been concerned with geographic access to food and identifying food deserts – low-income areas with limited access to nutritious food sources or food swamps – marginalized areas saturated with fast-food outlets or convenience stores. However, food mirages – areas in which healthy food outlets appear plentiful but remain economically inaccessible for low-income households – may be a more appropriate metaphor for understanding population food purchasing and dietary intake. Extant research also tends to exclude non-traditional food stores, like independent minority or ethnic retailers, that may offer food at discounted prices or more affordable cultural staple items. By contrast, other non-traditional food stores, like butcher shops, may sell food items at premium prices. Certain patterns also develop across cities that may lead to the emergence of food mirages and further constrain healthy food access, such as gentrification – as seen across parts of Toronto, ON. Within the contexts of rapid global urbanization and dietary impacts on human health, understanding processes by which food mirages and urbanization are linked is a worthwhile endeavour.
This research project asked the questions: (1) “What is the existing state of the RFE in suburban and urban areas in Toronto ON?” and (2) “What is the link between urban renewal and the emergence of food mirages in Toronto?”
Results from this study will contribute to a better understanding of population diet and can be used as supporting evidence towards local government policies and/or interventions to improve dietary intake. This study also identified DA’s most in need of support and strengthen partnerships between planners and allied professionals. Lastly, this research broadened the current state of food environment literature by considering alternative conceptualizations of the RFE, and specifically advances discussion on food mirages to explore the potential impact of urban renewal (i.e. gentrification) on food access.
Study Area – Toronto, ON: Toronto is a rapidly changing city with a serious food insecurity problem. Toronto is made up of n=570 census tracts and n=3702 dissemination areas. The City of Toronto also developed n=140 neighbourhoods used to monitor wellbeing, help local planning strategies, and reflect diversity and culture across the city, of which n=31 are identified as Neighbourhood Improvement Areas, facing serious inequalities.