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This article investigates the difference in food availability in Syracuse, New York and Munich, Germany. While Munich is larger by population, the food systems appear to be more equitable. Syracuse has a much more dire food environment.


Syracuse, New York: A City of Food Insecurity


Syracuse, NY, is one of the poorest cities in the United States. Food insecurity is a major issue in the city, with many residents lacking access to fresh, healthy food. Parts of this city are classified as a food desert, this means that residents for a number of possible reasons lack access to affordable and healthy food like fresh produce. 


According to a Food Environment report from 2017, the city’s 13202 zip code, which has a population of 5,878, has a median income of just $15,565. In this area, 56% of the population lives in poverty, and 50% of households do not have access to a car. 


This zip code also happens to have 22 fast food restaurants and 38 full-service restaurants. 

Unfortunately, the area ranks seventh in diabetes hospitalizations, ninth in heart failure hospitalizations, and ranks worst in the city for hypertension hospitalizations at ninth.


Zip code 13203 nearby, which has a population of 16,406 and a median income of $30,731, fares only slightly better. Thirty-six percent  of the population lives in poverty, and thirty-seven percent of households do not have access to a car. It has only five fast food restaurants and nine full-service restaurants. However, the area ranks fourth out of nine (being the worst) in diabetes, heart failure, and hypertension hospitalizations.


Zip code 13205 is the worst in terms of food insecurity. In this area, 34% of the population lives in poverty, and 32% of households do not have access to a car. This area has ten fast food restaurants but no full-service restaurants. Unfortunately, the area ranks worst in diabetes and hypertension hospitalizations.


The city has a total of nine zip codes, and according to the WalkScore, the city has a walk score of 57/100, transit score of 41/100, and bike score of 48/100. While walking through Syracuse’s South Side, one can find a single farm stand, which is the only one in the area and is open only on the first Sunday of every month.


Syracuse’ South Side has only two formal grocery stores, Aldies and Green Valley, and is home to several fast food chains, including Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, Popeyes, and KFC. The city also has several convenience stores and a Dollar General.


Munich, Germany: A Model for Food Access?


Munich, Germany is a city with a population of 1.472 million and a median household income of $51,786. Unlike Syracuse, Munich has a high number of car owners, with 570 cars per 1,000 people. However, the city has a WalkScore of 90/100, making it highly pedestrian friendly.


Munich has an extensive walking and biking culture, and the city is built with carpooling and public transit at the forefront. People in Munich typically buy food for the day rather than stocking up on food as we do in the United States. It is not unusual to grab your produce on the way home to make dinner. 


Munich has many small stores that specialize in produce, baked goods, meat, and other food items. The city has less of a buy-in-bulk mentality, and the price structure isn’t built on that. This results in lower costs at stands and convenience stores than even formal grocery stores.


Munich also has a much more dense population with 12,000 people per square mile or 4,500 people per square kilometer. Compared to Syracuse’s 5,764 people per square mile. This likely plays into the differences in food availability and reliance on transportation.


Fast food in Munich is also more spread out than in Syracuse, and even restaurants are more evenly distributed. With small stores and shops distributed all over the city rather than in clumps as is common in Syracuse, Munich is less susceptible to food deserts, as access to fresh and healthy food is available throughout the city.


While these two cities are an ocean apart, it might be wise to look to our neighbors for a solution to food insecurity. Syracuse’s problem is rooted in several factors including the lack of public transportation, as well as the distribution of something as simple as a fresh produce stand. The solution may not be simple, but this problem cannot be half addressed or swept under the rug.