Food Deserts in the City (Part 1)

  • The Chene-Ferry market was once a bustling center of commerce in this Detroit neighborhood. It closed in the 1970s. There are no major chain grocery stores to serve the community, so many people shop for food at liquor and convenience stores. (Photo by Marla Collum)

Most of us don’t have to think too much if we
want fresh fruits, vegetables and other foods. We
drive to the supermarket or farmers’ market and find
whatever we’re looking to buy. But for many people
living in the inner city, it can be tough to find
fresh foods. Julie Grant reports that can lead to
health problems:

Transcript

Most of us don’t have to think too much if we
want fresh fruits, vegetables and other foods. We
drive to the supermarket or farmers’ market and find
whatever we’re looking to buy. But for many people
living in the inner city, it can be tough to find
fresh foods. Julie Grant reports that can lead to
health problems:



Neighbors having been counting down the days for this store to
open. The bright lights, the shiny floors, 217,000-square feet
of retail and grocery. This Wal-Mart Supercenter offers produce
bins overflowing with dark leafy kale, imported plantains, and a
rainbow of green, yellow and red apples. Mother of two Dionne
Smith says she’s glad it’s here:


“I was looking at the prices. I mean because I was looking at this. In a regular store that’s
like 2 dollars 79 cents. Here it’s a dollar-fifty. So it’s
pretty good.”


“You’re looking at the Velveeta Mac n’ Cheese?”


“Mmm hmm.”


This Wal-mart is located on the south edge of Cleveland. It’s
part of the first new shopping center in the city limits in
decades. But it’s close to the suburbs. Not an easy trip from most
of the low income neighborhoods to the northeast – places where
it’s tough to find fresh foods.


In this poorer area, a lot of people who come to see dietitian
Cheri Collier have problems with diabetes, heart disease and
obesity. Collier says the health center opened adjacent to a
supermarket a few years ago. She planned to show people
firsthand how to improve their diets:


“I was very excited about the idea of having grocery store nearby.
Because I felt it was easier to teach people how to shop by having live
models. Taking you into the grocery store, showing which aisles have the appropriate foods, how to pick food labels, how to shop based on
what’s available for you in the area that you’re living.”


But it didn’t work out. Just six months after the health center
opened, the supermarket closed.


Today Collier looks around at what’s left on the food landscape near her health center:


“We got a couple of beverage stores, check cashing stores. Might
have beverages or food, and snacks in there. We’ve got
McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, KFC. Those are the main
things we see right away… Lot of stuff you can get that’s
quick. And you have United Convenient Market, has a lot of convenience-type foods. Some snacks, and some alcohol of course, and some pops and beverages. The two grocery stores we had in the area
are closed down.”


Collier takes us to what’s now called the “grocery store” in this
neighborhood. You can buy milk here. And cereal. Juice. But
there is no produce aisle. No fresh fruits or vegetables. Only
canned vegetables. No fresh meat. Collier picks up a can of
something called “potted meat” – and says this is the kind of
food that can lead to her clients’ health problems:


“It has chicken. Pork skin. And that’s my concern because that
skin is high in fat and that’s what giving them a lot of extra
cholesterol and saturated fat. So not only a person may think
they’re getting chicken, they’re actually getting chicken with pork
fat all over it. So it’s not the healthiest option.”


Collier tries to educate her clients about the high fat and salt
content in potted meats, processed boxed foods, and even many
canned vegetables. She says people on limited incomes buy these
foods because that’s what’s available:


“Someone just said earlier, ‘Because I’m in the neighborhood
and I can get to that store and get what I need.’ So to them it’s
like, I can get more of these and still have money left over to
buy something else I want.”


That’s one reason why stores sell cheap processed foods in poor
inner city neighborhoods, while the supermarkets with fresh foods
close down.


Getting quality produce often depends on the wealth of your neighborhood. Researchers have found that again and again. Dr.
Ana Diez-Roux is with the University of Michigan:


“It’s like a vicious cycle. Stores offer what people want to
buy, but people can only buy what the stores offer. So it
becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.”


And Diez-Roux says without supermarkets or other ways to get
fresh produce and meats, certain people will face more health
problems:


“In particular, healthy food options are less available in poor
and minority neighborhoods then they are in wealthy and white
neighborhoods.”


Diez-Roux says that’s one reason poor neighborhoods have higher rates
of diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. She says
public policy is starting to address this problem in two ways: by
educating consumers and providing incentives to stores to carry
healthier foods in poor neighborhoods.


But progress is slow. Eating habits are hard to change. And
stores don’t want to stock perishables that don’t sell.


For the Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

Related Links

PB &Amp; J SAVES THE WORLD

  • Bernard Brown says making a peanut butter and jelly (or PB and fruit) sandwich is better for the environment than eating a burger or chicken nuggets. (Photo by Jennifer Szweda Jordan)

What could be more American, more humble, than a peanut butter and jelly
sandwich? And yet one activist suggests a PB and J a day could help slow
global warming. Jennifer Szweda Jordan recently visited the founder of the
PB and J Campaign:

Transcript

What could be more American, more humble, than a peanut butter and jelly
sandwich? And yet one activist suggests a PB and J a day could help slow
global warming. Jennifer Szweda Jordan recently visited the founder of the
PB and J Campaign:


(Brown:) “So we just spread some peanut butter on your banana bread.
Would you like to try it?”


(Jordan:) “Yeah. Yeah.”


Bernard Brown is trying to get people to see the peanut butter and jelly
sandwich in a new light. On his website, there’s a saintly glow behind a
graphic of the sandwich. He thinks eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich
could just save the planet.


Brown estimates that eating one peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch
versus, say, a ham sandwich, or a burger, saves nearly three and a half
pounds of greenhouse gas emissions and 280 gallons of water. In Brown’s
kitchen, he waves a peanut butter covered knife. He explains why he’s using
this comfort food to change the world:


(Jordan:) “Why peanut butter and jelly? Like it’s a pretty processed, highly
processed kind of…”


(Brown:) “Yeah, it’s because it’s the most familiar food I could think of that
didn’t have, that was sort of purely plant-based and wasn’t animal-based at
all. It’s one of these things like people might be scared by words like vegan
or vegetarian. But there’s absolutely nothing alternative about peanut butter
and jelly.”


What’s more, some experts suggest Brown’s not, well, nuts. A Princeton
bioethicist says if 100 million Americans – that’s one of three of us – traded a
burger for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, it would make an impact on
the environment. And if we made the same choice three times a week, it
would make a huge impact.


Those who worry that Brown’s dietary suggestions might make a huge impact on the
waistline, take heart. A serving of two tablespoons of peanut butter does have nearly 200
calories and 16 grams of fat. But the fat is not the worrisome saturated type and there’s
some evidence that eating a small amount of nuts each day might reduce the risk of heart
disease, and even prevent cancer.


Of course, Brown and nutritionists still suggest partnering a low-sugar peanut butter with
whole grain breads, and low-sugar jellies, or even fresh fruit. And Brown hopes people
consider moving beyond the peanut butter and jelly:


“On the website, we go into other different, other foods people could try – a
bean burrito’s a good example. Black bean soup. Falafel. We even tried
mentioning tofu. I’m not sure if it scares people away.”


Brown really wants to win over people by keeping the campaign from
becoming a crusade. He says that even a vegetarian like him is turned off by
overly radical, moralistic or bloody efforts against meat-eating, or for saving
the world:


“I think have a lot of messages that, ‘Things are very scary, you must change
your life.’ And so, it’s to try to come in with a softer approach, I think. The
ideal is to reach people who aren’t reached with more intense messages.”


Brown hopes to disarm you with playfulness. And what could be more playful than
playing with your food – turning peanut butter and jelly sandwiches into
people?


(Sound of fast typing)


On a laptop computer, Brown calls up a slide show he’s made of a
gingerbread-style cutout couple, peanut butter and jelly boy and girl. They’re
making a snowman and chatting. When PBJ boy gets a little sad, his
companion wonders why:


“He’s concerned that maybe global warming will mean there won’t be
conditions for making snowmen in the future.”


(Jordan:) “Can you read this one? They’re very sophisticated?”


(Brown:) “PBJ Girl says, ‘Well, anthropogenic climate change is a serious
problem. It should only affect the climate gradually. I’m positive we’ll able
to build a snowman next year.’ And then PBJ boy says, ‘Well, I guess that
makes me feel better, but what if our grandkids never see snow?'”


The girl says if we reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it might stay snowy in
the winter. Then she backs up Brown’s claim that it’s easy enough to do: just
have a sandwich that looks a lot like her and visit the pbjcampaign.org
website.


PBJ boy and girl are just the beginning.


(Sound of jingling cookie cutters)


Brown has a jar full of more cookie cutters like those he used to make the
boy and girl. He figures a wider variety of peanut butter and jelly creatures
could act in slide shows and carry out other environmental messages.


Brown’s not just limiting his work to online skits. He’s also trying to build a
calculator into his site so visitors can register the number of peanut butter
and jelly sandwiches they’ve eaten. Then he can track the impact. No
matter what, though, Brown plans for the campaign to remain light, fun, and
easy to swallow.


For the Environment Report, this is Jennifer Szweda Jordan.

Related Links