Michael Chrobok

About me

Michael Chrobok

Greetings! I am an urban cultural geographer interested in food accessibility, ethnic grocery retailing, consumer behaviour, and municipal governance in multicultural cities. In addition to my current food-related research, I am also engaged in a fascinating project that explores the cultural politics of American motorsports.

I received my Bachelor of Arts from York University, where I studied Geography and Political Science. During my final year of the program, I conducted a quantitative study on grocery purchasing patterns in the northern Toronto neighbourhood of Humber Summit. My work, which I presented at the 2012 meeting of the Canadian Association of Geographers, underscored the subjective nature of the food desert phenomenon and emphasized the importance of vehicle access in modifying residents’ encounters with their local food environments.

I built on this research project while completing my Master’s thesis in Geography at York University, under the supervision of Lucia Lo. Turning to in-depth qualitative interviews and the nearby community of Humbermede, Toronto – which had been previously mapped as both a ‘food desert’ and a ‘food oasis’ – I explored how food accessibility is perceived and experienced in a culturally-diverse neighbourhood where the only retailers present are ethnic in nature. I found that identity-related factors and aspects of one’s life circumstances – not merely distance – coalesce to influence understandings of one’s retail environment and one’s store patronage decisions. This work, which I presented at meetings of the Association of American Geographers in Tampa (2014) and Chicago (2015), further demonstrated that food shoppers and retailers are not homogenous, and that ‘access’ has critical socio-cultural, economic, and spatiotemporal components. Prior to my research, these ideas had been given relatively little consideration in the food desert literature.

In 2014, I began my PhD in Geography at the University of Toronto, with Sarah Wakefield as my supervisor. While here, I have served as a Teaching Assistant for courses in Urban Geography and Marketing Geography; delivered guest lectures on race, racialized space, and the urban geographies of food retailing; and collaborated with my FEAST colleagues on an article about food justice and settler colonialism, which appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. Over the fall/winter of 2014-2015, I served as a service-learning intern with the Toronto Food Strategy, where I conducted qualitative research on vendor-perceived barriers to menu expansion at Toronto’s hot dog carts. My findings, which I presented to staff at Toronto Public Health, demonstrated that a reformulation of by-laws governing the use of sidewalk space and enhanced communication with vendors regarding permits are steps that the city must take in order to diversify its street food scene.

I am in the planning stages of a new project (2016-2019) based in New York, one which explores the design, implementation, and outcomes of the Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH) program. This municipal initiative aims to enhance food access and stimulate local economic development by incentivizing new supermarkets to open in areas underserved by grocery retailers.

To follow and learn more about my work, please visit the links above, as well as my Academia.edu and Twitter pages.