Wednesday, March 30 2022
2:00pm - 4:00pm
Masters Presentation
Hungry for Equality: Fighting Food Deserts with Optimization

Food deserts are a form of food insecurity related to a lack of access to healthy, fresh, and affordable food. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 13.7 million households in the U.S. experienced food insecurity in 2019. This problem has only been exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and disproportionately affects marginalized communities.

In one traditional approach where we seek to minimize the expected distance of the population to grocery stores, the worst-off members in our communities tend to be ignored in the solution as outliers. To address these food insecurities, and the existing inequities, we demonstrate how the Kolm-Pollak equally-distributed equivalent function (EDE) can be minimized over a facility location integer program to minimize not only distance but also the inequality of the distribution. The EDE is a nonlinear function making the problem computationally harder than the traditional linear model; therefore, we discuss various ways to approach the optimization including the use of a piecewise-linear under-estimator to approximate the objective and an exact linear formulation of the model. We present results demonstrating how our model works on real-world data to produce an optimal distribution of grocery store locations in New Orleans. In minimizing the inequality, we are ensuring that we are prioritizing relief, increasing food access, in disproportionately affected marginalized communities.
Speaker:Drew Horton

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