North Tulsa recently saw one of its grocery stores close, exacerbating the problem of food scarcity in the area.
North Tulsa’s food deserts widened last week as another of dwindling number of grocery stores North of Highway 244 closed its doors.
With Gateway Market’s closing, near the corner of Pine and Peoria, three additional square miles of North Tulsa fall into the category of food desert.
Food deserts are defined by the USDA as “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets and healthy food providers.” In an urban area, anywhere more than one mile from a grocery store is considered a food desert.
In a city like Tulsa, which was built around cars and doesn’t have dependable public transportation, urban sprawl is a major contributor to the prevalence of food deserts.
In an interview last year, Travis Lowe, a TU sociology professor specializing in urban areas, said “Tulsa is a particularly interesting example because this is a city that has organized itself around the automobile. In doing so it has basically made it so that people require a vehicle to go places. If you live in a food desert, your options for going somewhere besides a convenience store are very limited.”
North Tulsa is defined by the city as everything above highway 244 within city limits. The city zoning for this area is primarily residential and industrial with a few small commercial zones. Many of the residential and industrial zones correspond to regions of North Tulsa that the USDA defines as food deserts.
Another concern is that grocery stores are out-competed by the prevalence of small-box dollar stores. These stores offer non-perishables at an affordable price, but often the quality of the food is greatly reduced.
Fast food or convenience stores, which offer less healthy food at marked-up prices, are also abundant.
Studies have suggested that those of lower socioeconomic status have 250 percent more exposure to fast food.
This leads to higher levels of obesity and other nutritionally-linked negative health outcomes in lower-income areas where people have hindered access to food, as well as a continuation of the cycle of poverty.
On average, people living in North Tulsa die 14 years earlier than those living in other parts of the city.
Food deserts disproportionately affect mixed-race and nonwhite neighborhoods, with African American and Hispanic neighborhoods, like those in North Tulsa, the worst affected.