February 24, 2011
Written by Tanea Lunsford.
Growing up, I can remember taking trips to the corner store much more vividly and frequently than trips to the grocery store. While we had to drive ten to fifteen minutes across the city to get to the closest grocery store, the corner store was always two blocks in any direction. We were seemingly forgotten by the supermarket and grocery stores that were distributed generously in other parts of the city. I remember listening to the complaints and discussions about the lack of different resources and businesses within my neighborhood.
As a child however, I was easily appeased by the presence of sugary drinks and salty, hydrogenated snacks. I had no idea that I was living in the middle of a food desert.
I enjoyed trips with my mother to the grocery store as a kid, she would tell us to pick fruit we wanted. She would compromise with me on a pack of frozen vegetables other than broccoli, for which I had a well-known disgust. While I learned about the importance of eating healthy in school and at home, the resources needed for this were limited in my community. Even today the layout of my community is so that the fast food restaurants and corner stores are more than a 30 to 1 ratio to grocery stores. After some reading about food deserts, I realized that much of the lack of resources is due to redlining. Redlining is a process performed by lenders, companies, and other potential resources to discriminate against and divest funds and services from a neighborhood based on their supposed risks and foreseen inability to yield successful returns when given the support. I started to understand that the businesses of corner stores and fast food restaurants in my community were able to thrive because they have been placed in a community that lacks healthy, affordable alternatives. These unhealthy businesses are able to succeed in our community because they attempt to (and often succeed) replace grocery stores and supermarkets by selling things at these venues (i.e. fruit, meat, paper towels, toilet tissue, vegetables, etc.) at hiked prices and poor quality (in the case of the fruits and vegetables) because of longer shelf-life in an environment that was not designed considering the preservation and maintenance of perishable items.
However, the presence of these unhealthy sources is not a band-aid solution for lack of healthy resources, it is an unfit replacement and hindrance for growing families who have to choose between price and quality—often without healthy produce being an option.
The presence of healthy food in all communities is necessary for everyone to have the opportunity to embrace a healthy lifestyle as a reality and not something that is characterized as only belonging to people who can “afford” it or who live in more affluent communities. The denial of accessible healthy food for some has created a view of healthy resources as a privilege enjoyed by those with grocery stores and supermarkets nearby rather than a right for all to enjoy equally. The denial of grocery stores and healthy food businesses in certain neighborhoods creates a hierarchy of classes, those that are “deserving” or “worthy” of healthy resources and those who are not.
I would like to pose the question to the few companies who make the decision of where healthy foods are made available, “Who IS worthy of eating nutritious healthy foods?” My hope is that actions in the future will point towards a just answer, which is “everyone”.
Tanea Lunsford is a sophomore at Columbia, studying Anthropology and Human Rights. She grew up in the Oceanview and Hunter’s Point/Bayview communities of San Francisco. She worked as a summer intern at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute. Email: email@example.com
For more on food deserts and what you can do to bring fresh food into your community, I suggest picking up Mark Winne’s Closing the Food Gap.