Food and Transportation

Residents of many low income urban areas face a challenge in accessing healthy food in their neighborhoods. Low income residents are also more likely to lack cars and so can find it difficult to shop for healthy food outside of where they live.

UEPI believes that transportation options can be improved to help bring good food to people and help people get to good food.

In 1993, the Seeds of Change students at UCLA under supervision of professor Gottlieb identified transportation programs as a critical component of a more food secure city. UEPI continued to research the topic as part of our work on food access and food justice. In 2009-2011, UEPI partnered with CRA/LA and Esperanza Community Housing Corporation on a study of transportation and food access in South Los Angeles.

Partners sought to understand links between the food retail landscape,  transportation options, and residents’ food shopping habits. Partners mapped store locations and transit routes; conducted 95 store and 45 mobile vendor surveys to determine quality and types of food available; and conducted focus groups with residents to learn how people get to food stores.  Partners identified a range of policy options to improve residents’ ability to get to healthy food and refined these options through community input. Mapping and store assessments identified three zones of varying degrees of access: commercial corridors with fairly good transit service and food access; ‘food deserts’ with some transit service but  lacking enough food stores, and residential areas without retail and poorly served by transit.  Interviews with mobile vendors identified street and mobile food as a potential source of healthy food but one that is currently illegal to sell on sidewalks. Policy recommendations are divided into five categories: (1) improving transit; (2) legalizing and regulating mobile food; (3) expanding local food distribution; (4) using zoning and land use regulation; and (5) improving store and street design. The full report “Enhancing Food Access through Transportation and Land Use Policies” can be viewed here. UEPI is working with the mobile food task force of the Los Angeles Food Policy Councilto draw attention to the need for reform mobile food. Street food helps make Los Angeles a vibrant place and a great food city. It has the potential to play a vital role in communities as well, providing access to good food – food that is healthy, sustainable, fair, and affordable. Realizing these benefits, though, is challenging in Los Angeles where vendors are currently unable to operate legally on sidewalks and food trucks encounter parking difficulties. As a result, many vendors are marginalized, occupying a socioeconomically and legally precarious position. Consumers are unable to realize the benefits of increased access to good food and are denied the assurances of transactions with regulated businesses. Municipal governments devote large sums to enforcement of municipal mobile vending laws. UEPI is also leading a coalition to create a regional food hub that can increase distribution of locally grown food in the Los Angeles area.

Contact Project Staff

Mark Vallianatos
Policy Director
Yelena Zeltser
Program Manager
Amanda Shaffer
Robert Gottlieb

Food and Transportation in the News

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Food and Transportation Publications

Food Justice by Robert Gottlieb and Anupama Joshi February 25th, 2013, MIT Press (pdf)

The Cost of a Global Food Chain by Robert Gottlieb February 25th, 2013, Los Angeles Times (pdf)

The Right to Place: Food, Streets and Immigrants by Robert Gottlieb February 23rd, 2013, Pat Brown Institute (pdf)

Homeward Bound by Robert Gottlieb, Andrew Fisher, Marc Dohan, Linda O'Connor, Virgina Parks February 25th, 2013, University of California Transportation Center (pdf)

Food and Transportation Blog Posts