Technical Narrative (2016)

A data visualization made for health-related topic involving the lack of healthy eating options in Georgia, areas termed as food deserts.


The visualization was also accompanied with an audio recording emulating National Public Radio’s All Things Considered broadcasts, with my focus towards social commentary. The recording can be listened to through this link, along with transcript below:

For some people, the presence of cheap meal and fast food in immediate vicinity serves to present an option for a quick meal to satisfy their hunger while they continue with their busy study or work days. But for others, such cheap meal is the only choice they have almost every day.

On today’s All Things Considered, Danny Ji, a student currently attending Georgia Institute of Technology recalls living in one such area within the heart of downtown Atlanta, Georgia.

I used to live in an apartment near the Five Points, and the moment I stepped outside the building, I was immediately surrounded by various fast food restaurants of various types, including the usual burger and fried food joints and convenience store selling cheap snacks and drinks. The first thing I saw no matter where I went were fast food, and no sign of fresh produce in immediate vicinity where I could just grab an apple or banana.

United States Department of Agriculture coined the term “food desert” in order to describe areas devoid of readily-accessible fresh produce goods such as vegetables, fruits, and other healthy foods within a mile.

Although the distance may seem trivial for people with personal automobiles and reliable public transportation, the travel becomes far more time-consuming for those without such luxury.

I did not own a car at that time and used MARTA train system to commute to school, and if I wanted to get some fresh produce the most effective method for me was to head to a supermarket that was close to one of the stops, when I head home after classes.

Although the trip wasn’t so bad compared to what other residents have to deal with, the amount of time making what should be a simple trip, along with preparing the food on top of everything else on the schedule made all those fast food options fairly tempting- just have a quick meal and get it over with.

According to 2014 census by USDA, food desert occupy a significant part of downtown Atlanta along with outlying neighborhoods including Turner Field and Sweet Auburn. Outside the city, the food desert spreads further out across nearby suburban areas. Food desert has been linked to various health-related issues such as obesity, diabetes, and various other chronic and heart diseases.

When you’re surrounded by junk food every day and everywhere, it is easy to see how food desert can lead to declining health. Combine that with poverty and lack of reliable transportation and it effectively traps you between a rock and a hard place in trying to stay healthy.

Fortunately I managed to find a store hidden within a large office building next door that sold primarily fresh produce. Although the location was small, they were perfectly affordable and the owners were friendly as well. I became a regular customer ever since, and it may as well have saved my eating habits during my residency there.

Still, it’s not enough that fresh produce market be simply available within a convenient distance. Although various efforts are being made to counter the spread of food desert, I find it equally important to become aware of our eating habits, and help support the fresh food market ourselves.

After all, it’s still easy to give into fast food temptation, even when healthy eating options are available.

For NPR News, I’m Danny Ji.

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