First Advisor

Robert Shepard

Date of this Version

Spring 5-2022


Ryan, M. (2022). REEXAMINING THE DESERT: A STUDY OF PLACE-BASED FOOD INSECURITY. Lincoln: University of Nebraska-Lincoln Digitial Commons.


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: Geography, Under the Supervision of Professor Robert Shepard. Lincoln, Nebraska: May, 2022

Copyright © 2022 Morgan M. Ryan


Food Deserts are areas where individuals lack access to healthy and affordable food. Since 1995, the United States Department of Agriculture has been one of the leading organizations studying the phenomenon of food deserts. However, issues relating to the scale of their analysis limit their ability to gain a nuanced understanding of food insecurity. In the past decade, an increased emphasis has been placed on the importance of local factors that contribute to food insecurity and complicate the large-scale study of the phenomenon. This research explores the various place-based factors shaping food insecurity in Lincoln, Nebraska, by readapting Penchansky and Thomas’ (1981) new definition and taxonomy of “Access.” Using contemporary literature, this paper expands traditional food “Access” determination metrics to incorporate place-based factors of food insecurity. Observational data, collected at each of Lincoln’s 52 grocery stores, is analyzed to determine the place-based characteristics that consumers experience while shopping. A quantitative analysis highlights specific instances of low Access across the City of Lincoln. Quantitative study findings are then compared to the USDA’s large-scale food insecurity study to unpack the differences between varying scales of analysis. Lastly, this research concludes with a framework analysis that connects the common threads of low Accessibility grocery stores across the city and identifies commonalities that increase a consumer’s risk of food insecurity.

Advisor: Robert Shepard