Food security means having, at all times, both physical and economic access to sufficient food to meet dietary needs for a productive and healthy life. A family is food secure when its members do not live in hunger or fear of starvation. Food insecurity is often rooted in poverty and has long-term impacts on families, communities, and countries’ ability to develop and prosper.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many families have suffered from food insecurity. These families include the vulnerable community, such as homeless people and people with disability; many people running their small business has also suffered a significant loss.
The Consumer Price Index (CPI) for food is a component of the all-items CPI. The CPI measures the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a representative market basket of consumer goods and services. While the all-items CPI measures the price changes for all consumer goods and services, including food, the CPI for food measures, the changes in the retail prices of food items only.
The goal was to provide a perspective of Coronavirus’s impact on food insecurity in the US through a series of data visualization of national food insecurity rate maps. Plus, offering a more intuitive view of Coronavirus’s impact on food price changes through the visualization of the Consumer Food Price.
The report Impact of the Coronavirus on Food Insecurity in 2020 was published on Feeding America, and they also offered me a dataset to access the national food insecurity rate by counties and state.
The document Changes in Food Prices Indexes, 2018 through 2021, was published on the USDA website.
As 2020 has not ended, it was not easy to find Covid-19 impact on the food price-related and food insecurity-related dataset. Applying the datasets to Tableau Public conducted an interactive map of the national food insecurity rate map and bar, line charts of the food price index changes. Click here for more details.
When hovering on states or counties, it would indicate the actual food insecurity rate of that area. Different colors indicated different severities of the food insecurity rates. As I thought the rates are neutral, I used the color green, as it means peace and hope.
As for the CPI data, the index itself is an indicator or measure of something, and therefore, when I was trying to apply it to different kinds of charts and graphs, I found it did not tell the indication as good as the bar line chart. I compared the Oct. 2019 to Oct. 2020 CPI with average 2019 to average 2020 CPI in a bar chart, which could offer the audience a more realistic view of how actual the food price has changed in different kinds of food. I also included the annual 2019 CPI in a line chart that could help indicate how many changes have been made due to the impact of Covid-19 by comparison.
It resulted in the South has more food insecurity rate than the Middle West. People living on the East Coast or the West Coast had less food insecurity rate. North Dakota has the least food insecurity, which is 9.7%.
The CPI showed from September to October 2020, the index of pork, vegetables, fresh fruit, sugar, and some other product was higher than others. It somehow reflects in that particular period, the price of pork, vegetables, fresh fruit, sugar would be higher than the price used to be.
Remote moderated usability testing is a method that conducts evaluating exams through screen-share and talk-aloud techniques. This type of study involves the active participation of a trained facilitator or moderator. Compared to in-person studies, participants do not need to travel to the on-site testing location. The advantages of this approach include being less expensive, less time-consuming, and more convenient for participants.
Participants Based on my research findings, there were some insights for two participants:
Participant 1: a person who does the grocery shopping often and concerns about the food price
Participant 2: a person who does not care so much about food price
Pre-Test Questionnaire Have you count how much money will you spend on food?
Tasks and Questions Task 1: Finding out the food insecurity rates of your county on the map.
Task 2: Can you tell what does the bar chart and line chart mean?
Post-test Survey Questions 1. Does the results surprise you? Why?
2. What does the most frustrated part about the visualization?
3. What do you like the most about the visualization?
4. Does this help you better understand the food insecurity issues in the country?
5. Do you have any other things would like to share?
UX Findings & Recommendations
Overarchingly, participants had feedback on the visualization stating how it:
- Has a lot of opportunities to engage in learning what happened in other places;
- The visualization is very intuitive.
Alternatively, some of the overarching areas to improve include:
- Colors: both participants testing on the interactive map stated that although the color plate told the severities of food insecurity; however, the green seemed not related to the insecurity
- Discoverability: even though the bar line charts of CPI was simple; however, both participants had trouble when viewing them. They had a feeling the charts telling the food price changes, but they could not read from the charts.
- Clarity: The last chart did not deliver the information clearly: what is the comparison of the average 2019 to 2020 Index and the Oct 2019 to Oct 2020 Index for?
In completing Task 1, just finding out the county’s food insecurity rates on the map, both participants found their responses in 2minutes. For participant 1, who was not good at geography, she used the search bar to find the answer; for participant 2, she found her answers after viewing her county’s surrounding counties many times, as she was not sure if that was the place she was looking for.
Finding 1: The county view of the map was not intuitive.
Recommendation 1: Ordering and grouping the county and state information, as wells as the food insecurity rates on one dashboard.
For example, when zooming out, the interactive map only shows the state view and the food insecurity rates; and when zooming in, it presents the detailed county view and the food insecurity rates.
In completing Task 2: Can you tell what does the bar chart and line chart mean? Both participants stated the index numbers referring to the food price changes; however, they were not sure about the actual index numbers referred for. But based on Participant 1’s living experience, the higher the index number was, the higher the price of this product in reality.
Finding 2: Professional dataset might not explain well to the public. Even though the index numbers representing an indication; however, the public who was not familiar with, it would not know what exactly it is used for.
Recommendation 2: Enhancing more contents to help explain the unclear index categories.
For example, importing dataset about actual monthly or daily food price changes dataset to help explain how the CPI works.
REFLECTION AND FURTHER WORK
Ideally, this project would reflect the actual impact of Covid-19 according to the changes in the food security rates or the changes in the food price and combining it with the current economic situation and current unemployment. However, the overall project’s disadvantage was that all the reports and datasets were based on states and yearly, which means it would not be easy to find the quick, latest local data. So In this project, I directly use the data and chart from the Feeding America. After more data during the Covid-19 period is made public, it is worth further research and analysis. As the choice of using the concept of “food” to reflects on the impact of Covid-19 aims to resonate with people who had not been suffered from the Covid-19, the latest and local data would be the best choice; however, there was one other disadvantage of the national data people’s livelihood, which would raise a sense of distance.
Even so, there was still some positive feedback from the participants through the UX tasks. Participants who were not aware of how much Covid-19 impact happened in other places surprised found several places suffered less than they thought, while some places suffer much heavier than their thoughts. Therefore, they said they would concern areas that suffered heavier in the future.
As I did not find the actual local changes of certain food price dataset, I use the Consumer Food Price Index dataset. However, the index itself has already brought an indication; therefore, I had faced much trouble when I imported them in the Tableau as it lacks a dimension. Besides, as “index” is professional, many audiences might not realize what it actually refers to, which is the opposite of my project goal.
From a personal perspective, there was still a giant gap between food security and the food price changes that I need to research. Only in that way could I make the visualization more discoverable and clear. According to the participants, they all stated that they felt that the food insecurity caused by the Covid-19 had somehow impacted their lives, and through this task, they also had a better understanding of what happened in other places.
As for future works on this topic, I would find participants with more diversity and asked them to share more about their experience of food insecurity regarding the Covid-19. Plus, I think I also need to work a lot on data finding, as well as the ways to deal with analysis visualization of “index.”