Can You Really Eat What You Want?

Roy Fernandez, Cady Wagner, Duewa Partlow


In recent years, food deserts and food waste has become an important topic in America. Across the United States, 17 million children come from food insecure homes while 40% of food is wasted. In Nebraska, food comprises 17% of Nebraska’s municipal waste stream; making it the third largest contributor to landfill waste in the state and first in Omaha (Partners 2017). Food deserts are still prevalent in Omaha, Nebraska; 20% of children in Nebraska are at risk for hunger. Food deserts can be avoided with the reduction of food waste, by donating instead of wasting. This study intends to shed light about food deserts and food waste in Omaha.


There are five themes for “Food Deserts and Food Waste Project.” The themes are that low-income areas of Omaha have the most fast-food restaurants and the unhealthiest food options, the healthiest food is in West Omaha, there is a lack of transparency from grocery stores on food waste policies, food deserts in Omaha, and fewest grocery stores in low income areas. The low-income areas in Omaha are North, East, and South Omaha, with the most affluent area being West Omaha. There is a correlation between median household income and a disproportionate number of unhealthy food options. To understand the themes further, analysis of each section of Omaha—North, South, East (which is mostly included as part of North Omaha), and West was performed.

The data included the amount of grocery stores, fast food restaurants, convenience stores, and dine-in restaurants. A comparison was conducted on how each of these sections contained different choices for fast food, restaurants, and grocery stores by using Google Maps. This data was used to show different relation to food accessibility between low income and the more affluent areas.

To understand food waste, the organization Saving Grace was used. The data on their website was Omaha specific. They also show a list of donators and other research articles and videos displaying food waste and food deserts in Omaha Nebraska. Online articles from different news venues in Omaha were also used to display food deserts.


Theme: Most Fast Food in Low-income Areas

North and South Omaha are known to be low-income areas as opposed to West Omaha which is much more affluent.  A 2015 census showed that North Omaha (which includes North Eastern Omaha) has a median income of $42,483.  A 2010 census showed that South Omaha had a medium household income of $49,576. Both median incomes are significantly lower than the median income of the entire city of Omaha, which is $51,407. This is juxtaposed to West Omaha, which has a median income of $72,731 (Anon 2014).

Data was collected from the four regions of Omaha by viewing Google Maps, fast food restaurants were researched, varied information was found for each region. North Omaha offered most of its fast food options along 72nd street, a heavily traveled street in Omaha which is very accessible.  A myriad of options are available: McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Panda Express, Taco Bell among many others.

East Omaha seems to have the highest number of fast food restaurants, as it occupies East Dodge Street.  This is the most heavily traveled street in Omaha which goes from downtown to West Omaha, so it is very convenient for people to impulsively choose fast food restaurants over other options.  There are many dine-in restaurants located in the Old Market, but these are significantly more expensive than fast food places. South Omaha also has many fast food restaurants, but these are mostly located along the interstate, which appeals to passersby.  There are quite a few dine-in restaurants, but these do not necessarily provide healthy options.

West Omaha has the lowest number of fast food restaurants.  Although, there are quite a few fast food places along the interstate, these are not necessarily located in residential areas.  West Omaha also provided the highest number of dine-in restaurants with healthier options on the menu.

east omaha fast food

East Omaha Fast Food

Theme: Healthiest Food in West Omaha and Fewest Grocery stores in North, South, and East Omaha

There is a clear distinction between the types of food that are readily accessible in more affluent areas than what is accessible in low-income areas. Grocery stores are the healthiest options for families. Grocery stores allow people to decide the healthiest ways of preparing foods; deducing that areas with a high number of grocery stores will have healthier residents. It can also be said that these areas would be least likely be considered food desserts. In Omaha, the wealthiest area is considered West Omaha. The lower income areas are North, East, and South Omaha areas.

Starting with South Omaha, there were a total of 11 grocery stores. This portion of Omaha had barely any major chain grocery stores; stores like Baker’s and Hy-vee. Many of the grocery stores were independently owned. Some of the stores had small produce sections or limited organic items. Some grocery stores in the areas were La Guera, Jacob’s Grocery, Amigos Market, El Caribe Grocery store, etc. The major supermarkets were Family Fare, Aldi, and Walmart Neighborhood Market. In North Omaha, there were 18 grocery stores found. The makeup of these grocery stores is like what was found in South Omaha. There were more independently owned grocery stores than major chain grocery stores. There is still a limited selection seen in these grocery stores; having small produce sections and limited organic selections (Soderlin 2015). However, in the Benson area of North Omaha which is close to Central Omaha, there were two health markets. These two markets are called Jane’s Health Market and Daddy’s Neighborhood Fresh Market. Some of the independent grocery stores found are J-N-J Grocery store, J-N-D Grocery store, Phil’s Foodway, Asian Family Market, Chubb’s Food, etc. The chain grocery stores seen in this area are Baker’s, Aldi, Walmart Supercenter, and Family Fare. Finally, in East Omaha there were 13 grocery stores. In this area, the ratio of chain to independent grocery stores is even. There are more chain grocery stores in East Omaha than in North and South Omaha. There is also a Hy-Vee in this area which was not seen in the other two regions. The selections in the independent grocery stores are the same as in North and South. Of all the low-income regions, the most common thing about them is that each had more fast food restaurants then grocery stores. Dine-in restaurants were also higher in these areas.

Moving to the most affluent areas of the Omaha which is the western region. When looking at the grocery stores in this area, there is a correlation to the topic of the healthiest food being in the most affluent neighborhoods. There were 30 grocery stores found in this area, with more chain grocery stores then independently owned. The major difference in this area is that the independently owned stores have better selection of foods. These independent stores include Natural Grocers, Fresh Thyme Farmer’s Market, and Farm Fresh Market. These stores have greater produce selections and organic selections than those seen in the lower income regions. West Omaha also has a Whole Foods and a Trader Joes which is not seen in any of the lower income regions. These two grocery stores offer the healthiest options out of all grocery stores, and they are only located in West Omaha.

J-N-J Grocery store

J-N-J Grocery Store

fresh thyme farmers market

Fresh Thyme Farmer’s Market

Theme: Transparency of Grocery Stores on Food Waste

While researching food accessibility in Omaha, there were areas found that classified as food deserts. Many of the low-income areas has spatial orientation that would suggest poor accessibility to healthy foods. Supermarkets would be the healthiest option for low income neighborhoods, because they offer a variety of foods at an affordable price. “Supermarkets do employ large numbers of people and carry a wide variety of nutritious (and not so nutritious) foods, factors that make them major players in urban food systems and well suited for spatial analysis” (Shannon 2015). Starting with North Omaha, areas such as Benson had a higher density of grocery stores. Although, there are more grocery stores in the area, for residents to access a supermarket they would have to travel at least 1.5 miles.  Florence had less grocery stores that are closely clustered together. The highest distances between grocery stores in that areas are 1.7 miles. Surrounding areas around Forest Lawn Funeral Home Memorial Park are seen to have the longest distance from supermarkets. These distances are as far as 2.3 miles to the nearest grocery store. Next, looking at South Omaha grocery stores have more of an even spatial orientation. Distances between grocery stores are under 2 miles. Many neighborhoods can access a supermarket in under a mile. In East Omaha, the closest thing to a supermarket is an Aldi. The closest supermarket is in the Florence area of North Omaha. The distance between the Aldi and Baker’s in Florence is 1.6 miles. The distance of surrounding neighborhoods to the Aldi are as high as 1.8 miles. In these areas, fast food chains are more abundant then supermarkets. These areas also have smaller independent markets, but the selections are limited.

Looking at the most affluent area of Omaha, there is a distinct difference in the distances between grocery stores. There are also more supermarkets in this area, and even the independent grocery stores offer the same selection as a super market. The max distance between grocery stores is 1.3 miles. The supermarkets are evenly spread out to accommodate surrounding neighborhoods. West Omaha is not a food desert, there are more healthy options available to residents.

North Omaha food desert

North Omaha Supermarket Spatial Orientation

east omaha food deserts

East Omaha Supermarket Spatial Orientation

west omaha food deserts

West Omaha Supermarket Spatial Orientation

Theme: Food Deserts in Omaha

Transparency can be defined as operating in such a way that it is easy for others to see what actions are performed. It implies openness, communication, and accountability. Big industrial grocery stores like Walmart and Hy-Vee state that they acknowledge that the U.S. has a food waste problem, and that they are taking drastic measures to deceases the amount of food that ends up in our landfill. Hy-Vee’s webpage states that they throw out 20 to 40 percent of produce harvested each year. They are lunching what they call the “Misfits” program that reduces food waste at all levels, from the supply chain to distribution and disposal. Hy-Vee states that they work hand in hand with food donation organization, but through further analysis from Saving Grace Perishable Foods organization under the tab partners, there are only five Hy-Vee’s in Omaha that donate food. Hy-Vee appears to be transparent to its customers about food waste and how they address it, but food waste is at the bottom of the barrel when compared to making profit. Also, through further investigation it is found that on the Saving Grace’s website, they show a list of partners that all donate food to the organization. The types of partners are Atkin’s Natural Food Store, Attitude of Food, Greenberg Fruit, Pizza Ranch in Papillion, Whole Foods, Cheesecake Factory and several others.


Through the data collected using geographical methods, there is distinction of what is accessible to different income brackets.  In the lower-income areas, there is less access to healthy food. Lack of healthy food can lead to poor diet choices resulting in bad health. “Higher intakes of fruits and/or vegetables have been found for individuals residing in areas with greater access to supermarkets or other food stores offering healthy options in several, 3–5 but not all, 6–8 studies to date” (Ollberding et al. 2012). The selections of most of these grocery stores were limited with smaller produce sections and little organic options. Many of these independent grocery stores catered to certain ethnicities/races. This was not seen in West Omaha, there were hardly any grocery stores that catered to a certain demographic. It can be said that the lower income neighborhoods are populated by minority groups. “Previous research suggests that neighborhoods in the United States with high concentrations of poverty or of racial/ethnic minorities have lower access to healthy foods and greater access to unhealthy foods, compared with higher income or predominantly White, non-Hispanic neighborhoods” (Cubbin et al. 2012).

Higher income areas are surrounded by healthier options. Even the independent grocery stores in west Omaha offered bigger and better selections on produce and organic foods. There were more chain grocery stores present in West Omaha, showing that affluent neighborhoods have more options when buying healthy foods. The health of the population in this region could be significantly better than that of its counterparts. It is evident that grocery stores cater to the wealthier population to maintain their profit. This can be seen in the substantial amount of grocery stores in West Omaha. The amount of grocery stores almost triples that of South Omaha and doubles that of East Omaha. Low income areas can still be described as food deserts. Although, there is accessible food most of it is unhealthy. These residents cannot easily get fresh fruits and vegetables, they do not have a good selection of organic foods. The fast food in these areas outnumbers the grocery stores. A food desert can exist when there is more accessibility to unhealthy food than healthy food.

Food imbalance is defined as the average distance to any mainstream food venue divided by the average distance to a fringe food venue, in contrast to food balance where the distance to mainstream grocers is roughly the same as the distance to the nearest fast-food establishments (Budzynska et al. 2013).  Omaha, Nebraska shows clear indications of food deserts and catering to affluent neighborhoods.

All themes interconnect and can help to create a full picture of the food desert and food waste situation of Omaha.  The low-income areas of Omaha are in direct opposition with West Omaha, which has the healthiest food.  Organizations in North and South Omaha seem to be vague on their food waste policies, whereas West Omaha seems to have more stores that donate to Saving Grace and other charities.  Low-income areas have food deserts to the same degree that more affluent areas of Omaha experience them.  Low income areas experience unhealthy food options as they also experience fewest supermarkets.

Many people who live in food deserts are forced to use various modes of transportation in order to obtain all of their nutritional needs. In the article “Beyond the Supermarket,” the author notes how people in low-income areas of Minneapolis prefer to shop outside of their area due to perceived superiority of suburban supermarkets.  They are often willing to travel a significant distance to do so.  The author also speaks to the issue of fast food density among North and South Minneapolis and how they are appealing options to people, stating that “fast food was necessary when cooking at home was either inconvenient or logistically impossible” (Shannon 2015: 198).  This is similar to Omaha in that many households are forced to travel outside of their immediate neighborhood in pursuit of healthier food.  Many of these families often choose fast food, because it is one of the only places to eat without traveling outside of their food desert.

In another article “Healthy food access for urban food desert residents: examination of the food environment, food purchasing practices, diet and BMI,” the authors discuss how significant a role fast food places on an individual’s nutrition.  They note that “…other data suggest that full-service supermarket access has little to do with diet or obesity and too much access to fast-food outlets and convenience stores, which predominantly sell energy dense, nutrient-poor foods and few healthy alternatives, is what matters for obesity” (Dubowitz 2014: 2227).  This is very relevant to the study in Omaha, which is also concerned with the disproportionate number of fast food restaurants in North and South regions.  Having such a high number of fast food restaurants is undoubtedly linked to poorer overall health. Throughout this study, low-income neighborhoods have a direct tie to all themes. The transparency of grocery stores is what informs curious customers; gathering truthful and accurate data, or information that relates to food waste and how they handle food waste protocol.


It is evident that a true disparity exists between areas of different median incomes.  North and South Omaha, for a variety of reasons, experience a disproportionate number of unhealthy food options that they choose from on a daily basis.  These lower-income areas are also more heavily impacted by food deserts, because they have such limited healthy choices.

This study helps to better understand food deserts and food waste in Omaha, Nebraska.  Through analysis using Google Maps, it is now evident that there is a significant imbalance on food accessibility.  This is directly affected by the median income of a neighborhood.  It is also now evident that there is a problem with food waste that needs to be more seriously addressed by restaurants and grocery stores.  By examining and understanding this information, the people of Omaha will be better able to solve these issues in the future.


Anon. 2014. “West Omaha Demographics and Statistics.” West Omaha Demographics and Statistics . Retrieved April 13, 2017 (

Budzynska, K; et al. 2013. “RESEARCH ARTICLE: Food Availability and the Food Desert Frame in Detroit: An Overview of the City’s Food System.”  Environmental Practice 17(2):102-133.

Cubbin, Catherine; et al. 2012. “Social inequalities in neighborhood conditions: spatial     relationships between sociodemographic and food environments in Alameda County, California” Journal Maps, 8(4): 344-348.

“Partners.” Saving Grace Perishable Food Rescue. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Apr. 2017. <;.

“Hy-Vee.” Hy-Vee. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Apr. 2017. <;.

Dubowitz, T., Zenk, S. N., Ghosh-Dastidar, B., Cohen, D. A., Beckman, R., Hunter, G., . . . Collins, R. L. (2015). Healthy food access for urban food desert residents: Examination of the food environment, food purchasing practices, diet and BMI. Public Health Nutrition, 18(12), 2220-2230. doi:

Ollberding, Nicholas J; et al. 2012. “Food Outlet Accessibility and Fruit and Vegetable Consumption.” American Journal of Health Promotion, 26(6): 366-370.

Shannon, Jerry. 2015. “Beyond the Supermarket Solution: Linking Food Deserts, Neighborhood Context, and Everyday Mobility.” Annals of the American Association of Geographers 106(1):186-202.

Soderlin, Barbara. 2015. “Some ‘food deserts’ remain just that, even as retailers open supermarkets here and nationwide.” Omaha World-Herald. Retrieved April 13, 2017 (