Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. Deirdre Oakley

Second Advisor

Dr. Amy Spring

Third Advisor

Dr. Katherine Hankins


Food deserts and food access have increasingly become topics of concern in many urban and rural areas. Food deserts are areas in which there is relatively poor access to healthy and affordable food and/or areas where such available establishments are separated by great distance making them difficult to access. Lower income, racially segregated neighborhoods have fewer healthy food choices and higher rates of disease related to diet. Much of the research has focused on the health disparities and how there is an increased risk of unhealthy lifestyles among people who do not have access to healthy foods. The focus has been mainly on factors related to race or socioeconomic status. The purpose of this study is to shift the focus from examinations of urban environments and available resources to residents’ experiences living in such areas as well as their perceptions of food resource availability. Previous research appears to neglect these personal experiences, thereby missing a key component in helping to solve the issue of food deserts. To provide context of how food deserts in Atlanta formed, this study begins with an overview of the structure of Atlanta. Atlanta’s history of residential segregation and institutional racism, which have thereby contributed to unfavorable conditions in certain neighborhoods and formation of food deserts, is highlighted. Using ethnographic methods and geographic information systems (GIS), the study focused on food deserts and how the residents living in them navigate their lives to obtain the food resources they need. The use of GIS allowed for the identification of these particular food desert areas and identification of the neighborhoods from which the participating residents were recruited. GIS also helped highlight participants’ activity spaces (home, work, and shopping locations). Questionnaires and qualitative interviews allowed for a better understanding of residents’ experiences living in Atlanta area food deserts. I highlight lived experiences and activity spaces within the context of disadvantaged neighborhood characteristics and resources. Variables such as finances, transportation, neighborhood factors, preference, availability, and convenience emerged as being most impactful in residents’ experiences accessing food.