Date of Award

May 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Rina Ghose

Committee Members

Anne Bonds, Zengwang Xu, Renee Walker, Marc Levine


Food Systems, Health Inequities, Political Economy, Race, Urban Agriculture, Urban Geography


Evidence of growing food insecurity and diet-related disease (e.g., diabetes) in North America has raised concerns among scholars and community groups about the quantity and quality of food available to urban residents (Guthman 2012). Research indicates that low-income and racial or ethnic minority populations experience disproportionately limited food access (Zenk et al 2005). Scholars hypothesize that limited physical proximity to full-service retail food stores or to sources of affordable fresh produce leads to unhealthy dietary practices (such as overconsumption of fat) that then produce diet-related illness. This “obesogenic environment thesis” has shaped much of the geographic research on food access, which has predominantly focused on measuring proximity to retail food sources (Caspi et al 2010). Recent critiques, however, call greater attention to other dimensions of access, including how individuals interact with and experience their environments, how they obtain food, and broader political economic processes (Alkon et al 2013; Cummins & MacIntyre 2006; Hirsch & Hillier 2013). Without understanding, for example, where individuals actually shop for food, evaluating retail food quality in individuals’ residential neighborhoods is unlikely to lead to accurate identification of causal factors and linkages. This research intervenes by examining, via a case study of Milwaukee, Wisconsin: (1) food procurement patterns of low-income residents and (2) the ways in which local governance and political economic processes shape local food environments. It does so through a combination of quantitative and qualitative methodologies that draw on spatial analytical and political ecological perspective.