Modeling a Central Ohio Regional Food Network for Sustainable Outcomes

Mackenzie Wade ’22

Student: Mackenzie Wade ’22
Research Mentor: Ashley Allen (OWU Department of Environment & Sustainability)

Nutritional food has been shown to be less accessible within areas of lower socioeconomic status, thus leading to disproportionate health issues within low-income communities. We studied this correlation within the Columbus metropolitan area by mapping the current locations of food access points such as grocery stores, fast food restaurants, and discount stores. We also conducted surveys to better understand how residents get their food and perceive their food accessibility.

Creating and maintaining sustainable food systems, particularly networks of distribution and access, is becoming more and more imperative as humans are faced with a changing climate, as well as social, political, and economic stressors. The global food system is incredibly complex, so researchers are attempting to assess these potential impacts by examining ‘local’ (or more accurately, scaled-down) networks of food production, distribution, and access to understand the sustainability and resilience of our current food systems, as well as what could be done to mitigate loss in the case that these networks are interrupted (Savary et al. 2020). To contribute to that research, we have created and analyzed GIS visualizations of the current food systems within the Columbus metropolitan area with the intention of moving toward a more just system of food distribution. To do this, we have collected spatial data of all food access points within the central Ohio region. We have also conducted surveys of current Central Ohio residents to better understand the complexities of local food systems on an individual scale. Our data shows that areas of lower socioeconomic status tend to have less access to grocery stores and consequently increased reliance on food with low nutritional value, making Central Ohio's food systems consistent with those reflected in prior studies. These findings further provide evidence that residents in minoritized and/or low-income neighborhoods have higher access to foods that can lead to chronic health issues after prolonged consumption over time.