The GCSC Seminar Series will present Dr. Fernando Bosco, Professor of Geography at San Diego State University. His gives his lecture “Journeys in a Food Desert: Place, Mobility, and the Everyday Food Practices of Young People” on Nov. 1, 4:00 p.m. in 210 ASB.
Today, 6 – 8 million American youth are food insecure; living without reliable access to enough affordable, nutritious food. Geographer Fernando Bosco of San Diego State University has spent the last four years exploring food insecurity in three of San Diego’s neighborhoods: City Heights, Southeastern San Diego, and Little Italy. In his presentation on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 4 p he will describe how young people in these neighborhoods navigate their food environment.
“Food is the new nexus of social justice and activism,” explains Bosco. “There are really interesting questions to ask about the connections between young people and the food environment. We don’t know enough about the ways in which young people engage with food: what they eat, where they eat at, in which ways they access food.”
In order to answer these questions, Bosco had to undertake a “subjective, in-depth, qualitative approach” to his research.
He and co-researcher Pascale Joassart Marcelli used PhotoVoice, a unique research method that empowers the participants to tell their own stories through photography. The students in Bosco’s study were given cameras equipped with GPS and 24 hours to take photos of anything related to food in their daily lives. The GPS tracked where each photo was taken, building a kind of photographic footprint. Bosco then interviewed the students to learn the backstory behind their photos.
The photos revealed a crucial connection between student mobility and food access.
Bosco explains, “One of the interesting things that we found is that different young people have different levels of mobility. And that it matters. And that whether they walk to school, or whether they were being driven to school, [mobility] informs the different encounters that they had with food.”
Young people who mostly walked from place to place had a much better idea of where to find food that was not junk food. The young people who were driven did not know the neighborhood context as well. Bosco also noted that those who drove found their food from centralized supermarkets, while those who walked obtained food from smaller, ethnic stores in the neighborhood.
The importance of small ethnic stores in these three neighborhoods has been a structural lynchpin for Bosco’s research. During earlier stages of this project Bosco noticed that residents’ experience contradicted the neighborhood’s classification as a ‘food desert’—a low-income neighborhood where it is difficult to purchase affordable or good-quality fresh food. He discovered that the ethnic stores which were not considered by the USDA to be food sources actually provided fruits, vegetables, and meat for residents in these neighborhoods.
Bosco began to theorize about the race and class factors in how a community gets placed on the food desert map.
He comments, “If you look at these stores from the outside, they don’t look appealing to a mainstream audience. They tend to be considered problem places, when in fact, if you look more closely, they also have culturally appropriate foods for different ethnic groups.”
Without understanding the role these ethnic markets play in San Diego, well-meaning government agencies and non-profit organizations struggle to effectively address local food insecurity. In some cases their programs effectively flood the residents with food that they may not find affordable, appealing, or culturally relevant. Instead, Bosco proposes to work with existing local stores to bring in more food, driven by residents’ desires and needs.
More from Bosco during his lecture “Journeys in a ‘Food Desert’: Place, Mobility, and the Everyday Food Practices of Young People” on Tuesday, Nov. 1 at 210 ASB.