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Whence Nutrition
January 8, 2010 1:09 PM   Subscribe

Where does the food in your bodega — or the corner grocer, the local minimart — come from? [...] How come it's easier to find fresh fruits and vegetables in Brooklyn Heights than in the South Bronx? What's the connection between the incidence of diabetes and the food market supply chain?
The Center for Urban Pedagogy and Designer Observer's 30-minute video Bodega Down Bronx looks into the urban grocery gap, and is freely available to stream.

The food justice movement is a broader response to this well-known discrepancy. In the past decade, a few organizations have started up in places such as Seattle, West Oakland, New York City (including parts of the Bronx), amongst others.

The Urban Nutrition Initiative (more here) is addressing this same problem via projects like the Corner Store Project which aims to incentivize healthy eating habits.

More background on this can be found in Amanda Shaffer's 107-page [PDF] The Persistence of L.A.'s Grocery Gap. There are more academic studies, so if you're on a university campus, check out papers by Wekerie and Giang et al.
posted by spiderskull (17 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great articles illustrating a somewhat overlooked subject, thanks for posting. Here's a related MeFi thread that has some interesting insights into this problem, as well.
posted by deadmessenger at 1:29 PM on January 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thinking about this, I realize there is some difference between the urban poor and the sububran/rural poor. For example, in Lompoc, CA, the major employers are Vandenberg Air Force Base, a major correctional complex (which apparently contains not one but two federal prisons), a diatomaceous earth mine, and agriculture. This is also home to a large 99 Cent Store, which includes a sizable fresh produce section, including items which couldn't be from local fields (mangos, for example).

Another anecdote: a college professor told my class that those in the worst position for making shopping choices are the educated poor: they know why it's better to buy a more expensive food item, yet don't have the option to do so.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:00 PM on January 8, 2010


There was a This American Life episode entitled "Middle of the Night" (11.27.2009) that covered a produce market, in either NYC or Jersey, where the fruits and veg were purchased for all of the bodegas and just about all the restaurants in NYC. Really interesting.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:05 PM on January 8, 2010


See also the poverty penalty.
posted by grobstein at 2:30 PM on January 8, 2010


the only think i bought at the local corner bodega, in nyc, was "loosies", or single cigarettes...and the occasional illegal lottery ticket. forget the meat products. there were flies inside the refrigerated meat display.
posted by billybobtoo at 2:32 PM on January 8, 2010


The big elephant in the room is scratch offs and lottery tickets. I know this is about nutrition, but nutrition choices are partially determined by economics. How much money that is spent by bodega customers on scratch offs could be used to purchase healthier food?
posted by spicynuts at 2:36 PM on January 8, 2010


There was a This American Life episode entitled "Middle of the Night" (11.27.2009) that covered a produce market, in either NYC or Jersey, where the fruits and veg were purchased for all of the bodegas and just about all the restaurants in NYC. Really interesting.

If you had watched the video in the link you would have seen that they go to the New York City Produce Market and interview one of the directors.
posted by spicynuts at 2:37 PM on January 8, 2010


Said it before...

The argument that "there's no supermarkets in the 'hood" misses a colossal point, which is, if there were money to be made, someone would be making it (or trying to make it).

The fact that you don't see supermarkets in the bad parts of town is indicative that the people running supermarket chains have looked at the numbers, and simply don't like what they see.

It's not a matter of poor people buying less -- people gotta eat, period. No, the problem is that supermarkets (the ones not named Trader Joe's or Whole Foods) have razor-thin profit margins. And the additional costs associated with maintenance, security and theft ruin those profit margins.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:23 PM on January 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Bodega Down Bronx" is cute. But I suspect that bodegas, like most businesses that survive in the inner city, are dense with commerce of all kinds. These guys don't want to be bothered with keeping lettuce looking crispy.
posted by Faze at 4:10 PM on January 8, 2010


The big elephant in the room is scratch offs and lottery tickets. I know this is about nutrition, but nutrition choices are partially determined by economics. How much money that is spent by bodega customers on scratch offs could be used to purchase healthier food?

This seems like a very tiny elephant to me. Like the little decorative figurine elephant in the room. Scratch-off tickets are like a dollar. Not only is that not enough to buy "healthier food" for a family, but more importantly, the "healthier food" isn't often in the corner stores anyway. That's one of the points of the videos. Why are there no fruits and vegetables? Because they cost more and they require space and refrigeration to keep fresh. The other option is to travel to the nearest supermarket to get fruits and vegetables. In my case, the nearest supermarket is miles away.
posted by Danila at 4:14 PM on January 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Another point, about the poor paying more: obviously this applies to the corner stores (I feel weird saying bodegas since I've never called them that before). The food there is significantly more expensive. So before looking at lotto tickets or cigarettes, I'd look at the cost of the food itself and the impact this has on the pocketbook.
posted by Danila at 4:19 PM on January 8, 2010


It's not just a US problem, food deserts are a big concern in the UK as well. This (fabulously designed) page has maps of various towns and cities showing the distance to shops that sell fresh fruit and veg. The government have trialled a grant scheme to encourage corner shops to sell more fresh food.
posted by Helga-woo at 5:25 PM on January 8, 2010


Ha, I hadn't heard the term "food desert" before. I bet people who live in actual deserts without any food would really appreciate the humor in calling a region packed to the gills with as much dry goods and canned food as anyone wants a "food desert".

Earlier today in my nice living room in a rich country that can afford to create entertainment about eating I saw an episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations in which he explored the delicacies available in the Namib Desert, which include things such as unwashed pig's anus cooked in the dirt underneath a campfire. Even Mr. Bourdain was grossed out.
posted by XMLicious at 6:33 PM on January 8, 2010


The argument that "there's no supermarkets in the 'hood" misses a colossal point, which is, if there were money to be made, someone would be making it (or trying to make it).

Not necessarily. Businesses will decide who they want their customers to be, and then go after those people. No one wants the poor people as customers.

Years ago, I sold shoes on commission. The salespeople took turns with the customers as they came in the door. Over and over, I watched other salespeople ignore anyone who wasn't white and middle-class or wealthy looking. I made a lot of coin selling shoes to people who not only were ignored in our store, but every other store they went into. At the end of the day when sales were posted, they couldn't figure out how I did it, even when I explained it to them.

Also, poor people don't steal more, as anyone who has worked retail will tell you.
posted by zinfandel at 6:42 PM on January 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


Cool Papa Bell, you are coming off as a Randian nightmare, and I don't think you are, and I'm sure you aren't devaluing a whole neighborhood of people just because they don't have much money. Based on what you say, what do you think can be done to encourage supermarkets with fresh produce and farmer's markets into impoverished neighborhoods?

I don't know that this situation can be remedied in a capitalistic system.
posted by fuq at 7:49 AM on January 9, 2010


Based on what you say, what do you think can be done to encourage supermarkets with fresh produce and farmer's markets into impoverished neighborhoods?

There's only one way to do this, and that's to increase the expected profit margin for the businesses. If you build it (with "it" being a business-friendly environment), they will come.

This means lower taxes on businesses, construction incentives, infrastructure improvements, increases in neighborhood policing, long-term investments in education.

No one wants to hear this. This isn't let's-all-hold-hands-and-sing-the-praises-of-Swiss-chard. This work and cops and business.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:18 PM on January 9, 2010


Oh, and by the way, the next time you call someone "Randian," it would help if you knew what that actually meant. Jackass.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:20 PM on January 9, 2010


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