Local2Global Advocates for Food Sovereignty

Friday, November 29, 2013

Supermarkets: Pimp Death/Disease Across the World

Supermarkets: Pimp Death/Disease Across the World

 

I have a lot of thoughts on the whole supermarkets are the solution to malnutrition in poor communities, aka, food deserts,  but first let me say the obvious that people ignore.  Even if you lived next door to a supermarket, if you don't have the funds you can't purchase the food.  

As KCMO resident Dana G. said, "People sell their food stamps for rent; my community is hungry."  If you ain't got the cash, you ain't getting the food, no matter where it is. 

 

The problem is capitalism which, as I learned in Econ 10 back at Harvard, distributes our world's scarce resources through one's ability to pay.  Thus, if "u ain't got de cash; u ain't got de fud!"  Its simple-- and disastrous. 

It doesn't matter whether you live next door or down the street, if you are poor you will not be able to afford food, much less healthy food.

And while our economic sysem of capitalism creates great wealth, it also creates great  inequality and  corporate power, the classic weaknesses of capitalism I learned in ECON 10 back at Harvard.  Furthermore, as we all are learning, it creates tremendous environmental degradation which along with inequality, threaten our survival as a species. 

Furthermore, it isn't about "access to healthy food " as the dominant  narrative, ostensibly shaped by corporations, characterizes the issues; its about capitalism, our current food, ag, and socioeconomic systems.  These systems, policies and practices create  concentrated corporate power which then creates systems, processes and policies  which make corporations  more money and power through gross, unbridled exploitation of land and being--both human and other animals.


This power then uses systematic, well-studied  oppression  to keep people down so their corporate power is not threatened and to enhance their wealth which is in essence the control of our world's scarce resources as Milton Friedman (author of Econ book in Economics 10 at Harvard) would say. In essence the world, human society, is just one big 3rd world nation, "Mighty crush the weak, dog eat dog.." as Langston Hughes says in his poem still relevant today, "Let America be America Again, It Never Was for Me..."

Food is one source of oppression, but there are many others. i/e/, conventional and the lack of health care, mis-education, criminalization, the war on drugs, mass incarceration, housing injustice, forced segregation, environmental oppression--the denigration of the basic air, water we need to live  and so on--you fill it in here.

Furthermore, supermarkets are the tip of the Big Corporate Global Industrialized Food and Agriculture systems; it is the entry point of this system into and control of our American lives.

When I was first in East Africa (several times over the past 20 years,) most people still shopped at farmers' markets. In other words it was like we were 2 or 3 generations ago--when we were healthier.

However, now, the supermarkets are encroaching.  In Nairobi, where I lived for 6 months in 2012, Nakumat Lifesytle grocery store is the place for the "rich" and elite to shop for groceries rather than go to the "dirty," African farmers markets.  Their prices are higher, their produce looks as "if is on crack," and there is lots more processed foods and synthetic products than real food. 

Supermarkets are pushed in Africa as the "posh lifestyle of the west," i.e. the Nakumat lifestyle--who,  since they are rich, -must know what they are doing and have the best of everything.  Few know about the ever growing costs of this lifestyle because the media and the narrative is controlled by those benefiting from this lifestyle--the big corporations. But as we are becoming aware, the costs are enormous and include the very destruction of our species--health epidemics ---the destruction of our environment-- on which we depend to live and yet more.

It is all a grand manipulation accompanied by the manipulation of farming as well by the campaign to finish off traditional ag in Africa through the complete industrialization of it with the use of GMO's etc. 

Already most deaths from diabetes, a disease caused by "modern" rather than traditional diets, heavy on processed sugary food rather than whole grains, beans lentils, vegetables, are now in poor countries including all of Sub Saharan Africa.

I remember with horror this 40 or 50 ft ad for coca cola in Nairobi Center City with a young Black woman with westernized looks (lighter skin and straightened hair--not the traditional  African look of Black skin and a small elegant fro) with a headset listening to music, enjoying herself, looking happy, dressed in red and with a bottle of Coca Cola in her hand--one of the main cause of diabetes, The Slogan said--"Open Happiness."

This is what supermarkets do; they are the entryway for this processed food which is one the main ingredients of our health epidemics which is fueling predictions that even with modern medical care, our children will live shorter, sicker lives than we.

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-holt-gimenez/food-desert-walmart_b_910832.html Jiminez's Food First Seminal Piece

 

  1. Eric Holt Gimenez: Walmart's Food Deserts: Greening the Bottom Line

    www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-holt-gimenez/food-desert-walmart_b_910...
    Jul 28, 2011 - Campaigns across the country are underway to pressure the promised 1500 Walmarts, SUPERVALUs and Walgreens to hire full-time ...

  2. Eric Holt Gimenez: King of the Food Deserts - Huffington Post

    www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-holt-gimenez/king-of-the-food-deserts_b_...
    Oct 14, 2010 - For some, low-end retail is a godsend. Questionable food and part-time jobs with no benefits are better than no food and no jobs. For others it is ...

  3. Eric Holt Gimenez: The Fight Over Food Deserts ... - Huffington Post

    www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-holt-gimenez/the-fight-over-food-deser_b...
    Jul 14, 2010 - Behind Walmart's high profile donations to fight hunger, there is a decidedly less charitable story that is repeating itself throughout corporate ...

  4. Eric Holt Gimenez - Huffington Post

    www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-holt-gimenez/
    Eric Holt Gimenez, Ph.D. is a food system researcher and agroecologist. He is the Executive Director of Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy.

  5. Food Deserts

    www.huffingtonpost.com/tag/food-deserts
    Transforming Food Deserts and Swamps to Fight Obesity. Susan Blumenthal ... Eric Holt Gimenez | Posted 09.05.2013 | Healthy Living. Read More: Dangers of ...

  6. The Fight Over Food Deserts Starts with Fair Wages | Civil Eats

    civileats.com/2012/10/.../the-fight-over-food-deserts-starts-with-fair-wag...
    By Eric Holt Gimenez on October 8, 2012 ... In large part fueled by Michelle Obama's goal to eliminate food deserts in seven years, Walmart has set the PR ...

  7. Eric Holt-Giménez | Common Dreams

    www.commondreams.org/eric-holt-gimenez
    Eric Holt-Giménez, Ph.D. is a food system researcher and agroecologist. He is the ... August 2, 2011. Walmart's Food Deserts: Greening the Bottom Line.

  8. Walmart Can't Lead Us Out of the Food Desert - COLORLINES

    colorlines.com/.../wal-mart_cant_lead_us_out_of_the_food_desert.html
    Oct 27, 2011 - The very mention of “food deserts” is a call to action, evoking ... “Access is only one piece of the puzzle,” writes Eric Holt-Gimenez, a food ...

  9. Grabbing the Food Deserts | Food First/Institute for Food and ...

    https://www.foodfirst.org/en/Grabbing+food+deserts
    Apr 20, 2011 - By Yi Wang with Eric Holt-Giménez and Annie Shattuck ... Calling urban land "food deserts" is also being used to justify land grabbing in the ...

 

  1. Eric Holt-Giménez, Executive Director | Food First/Institute for Food ...

    www.foodfirst.org › About Food FirstWho we areStaff
    Jan 13, 2011 - Eric Holt-Giménez is the executive director of FoodFirst/Institute for Food and Development Policy. Eric is the editor of the 2011 Food First book, ...

  2. Eric Holt Giménez - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Holt_Giménez
    Eric Holt Giménez is an agroecologist, political economist, lecturer and author. From 1975-2002 he worked in Mexico, Central America, and South Africa in ...

  3. Eric Holt Gimenez - Huffington Post

    www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-holt-gimenez/
    Eric Holt Gimenez, Ph.D. is a food system researcher and agroecologist.

  4. Too Poor for Organic? Raise the Minimum Wage | Eric Holt Gimenez

    www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-holt-gimenez/too-poor-for-organic-rais_b...
    Nov 5, 2013 - No one seems to ask why we need cheap food in the first place. The simple answer is that cheap food helps to keep wages down.
  5. Images for eric holt gimenez

     - Report images

  6. Eric Holt-Giménez: Food movements, agroecology, and the future of ...

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=cihdyA5ubvI
    Jan 27, 2012 - Uploaded by TransnationalInst
    Public lecture: Food movements, agroecology, and the future of food and farming. Today, a billion people live in ...

  7. Eric Holt-Giménez | Common Dreams

    www.commondreams.org/eric-holt-gimenez
    Eric Holt-Giménez, Ph.D. is a food system researcher and agroecologist. He is the Executive Director of Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy.

  8. Eric Holt-Gimenez (eholtgim) on Twitter

    https://twitter.com/eholtgim
    The latest from Eric Holt-Gimenez (@eholtgim). Executive Director, Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy. Oakland, CA, USA.

  9. Articles by Eric Holt-Giménez, Monthly Review :: Monthly Review

    monthlyreview.org/author/ericholt-gimenez
    Wednesday November 27th, 2013, 4:42 am (EST). Browse: Home / Eric Holt-Giménez. Eric Holt-Giménez. From Food Crisis to Food Sovereignty: The Challenge ...

  10. Eric Holt-Gimenez | Speaker Profile and Speaking Topics

    www.apbspeakers.com/speaker/eric-holt-gimenez
    Eric Holt-Giménez is the Executive Director of Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy, a "peoples' think-and-do tank" dedicated to eliminating the ...

  11. Amazon.com: Eric Holt-Giménez: Books, Biography, Blog ...

    www.amazon.com/Eric-Holt-Giménez/e/B001JS76R2
    Food Rebellions!: Forging Food Sovereignty to Solve the Global Food Crisis by Eric Holt-Gimenez and Raj Patel (Apr 1, 2009) ...

 

 

Walmart Can’t Lead Us Out of the Food Desert

Grocery shopping at Walmart in Gladstone, Mo. Photo: Creative Commons/Walmart Stores
Thursday, October 27 2011, 9:45 AM EST Tags: food, obesity
62


166


The very mention of “food deserts” is a call to action, evoking images of vacant lots, liquor stores and bodegas stocked only with expiration date-defying processed foods. But while the metaphor of parched food deserts is compelling, it may also be limiting the conversation on food, because it suggests that the solution is as simple as expanding large supermarket chains.
In fact, researchers have found that supermarkets often create as many problems as they solve. Some grassroots food activists are coming up with promising alternatives to the supermarket strategy. But their ideas aren’t getting nearly as much support from recent state and federal initiatives to eradicate food deserts as are corporations’ plans to tap new markets.
“Access is only one piece of the puzzle,” writes Eric Holt-Gimenez, a food systems researcher and executive director of Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy, in a recent Huffington Post essay. Holtz-Gimenez points to the broader food economy as the core problem when it comes to our diet and health, and to more targeted local initiatives as the solution. “Rather than having their food dollar spirited off to the retail monopoly’s corporate coffers, these [grassroots] alternatives could potentially keep it in the community, where it can recirculate as much as five times,” he says.
While pledges to eliminate food deserts are noble, the narrow focus on expanding access to retailers may be overlooking the more structural underpinnings of poor health, particularly the lack of good jobs and surfeit of fast food restaurants in communities of color. Even the federal definition for food deserts (communities in at least one-third of residents live over a mile from a supermarket) only focuses on large retail stores, leading to policy initiatives and campaigns that leave out small groceries and family-owned operations.
California became the most recent state to launch a sweeping food-access initiative when Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Healthy Food Financing Initiative into law on Oct. 6. The bill—modeled after similar initiatives in Pennsylvania and New York and promoted by the Obama administration—declares that “access to healthy food items is a basic human right.” It sets up a fund that supports food retailers operating in the supermarket-dry communities.
In passing the bill, California joined the growing ranks of legislatures and private companies vowing this past year to fight food deserts. Earlier this year, the USDA comprehensively mapped the country’s food deserts for the first time. First Lady Michelle Obama also pledged to completely eradicate food deserts in America by 2017, saying that if people want to eat healthily, “they shouldn’t have to take three city buses…to go to another community to make that possible.” Corporate retailers have answered the call; in July, executives from Walmart, SUPERVALU, and Walgreens promised to open or expand 1,500 stores in communities designated as food deserts, a move that First Lady Obama touted as “a huge victory for folks all across this country.”
But as public awareness and action over food deserts reach a new high-water mark, some critics are now challenging the very notion that supermarkets are the solution. A recent study that tracked over 5,000 people in several cities over 15 years found that greater access to supermarkets “was generally unrelated to diet quality.” Low income levels, abundant fast food restaurants and race, on the other hand, were much more reliable predictors of poor diet and health than the number of supermarkets.
The U.S. Office of Minority Health states that in 2009, Latinos and African Americans were respectively 1.2 and 1.5 times as likely to be obese as whites, with the racial disparities even more pronounced among children. Another study from the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, which comprehensively reviewed 40 fast-food studies, found that body mass indexes were generally higher in areas that had fast food restaurants, and that fast food restaurants were universally more prevalent in poor and minority communities.
“Food retail is only one component of the total food environment that affects how people eat and, more fundamentally, their health,” explain researchers from the National Academy of Sciences in a 2009 study. “The supply of healthy food will not suddenly induce people to buy and eat such food over less-healthy options, especially when relative prices of the healthier foods are high.”
Large retailers and their proponents counter that their sheer clout makes them uniquely capable of serving the millions of Americans living in food deserts. Corporate retailers boast larger distribution networks, ample funding and the ability to borrow at attractive rates, allowing them to offer food at a lower cost and greater scale than smaller companies.
“With more than 140 million customers each week, Walmart is uniquely positioned to make a difference by making food healthier and more affordable to everyone,” declared the company in a January press release. “We will use our size and scale to reduce the price premium on these types of products whenever possible.”
Lawmakers have presumably been swayed by this argument. With their recent financing initiatives and health campaigns, lawmakers nationwide have aggressively courted corporate solutions rather than grassroots ones. However, this relatively narrow focus on supermarket expansion is arguably introducing a host of new problems even deeper than inadequate food access.
In 2006, researchers found that a Walmart store in Chicago’s West Side displaced local retailers and “reduced employment in nearby zip codes.” Rather than revitalizing food deserts, urban expansion by national retailers may in fact exacerbate such communities’ health and economic woes by driving away local businesses and food alternatives.
“For Walmart, urban expansion has nothing to do with food deserts,” cautions Holt-Gimenez. “Walmart desperately needs a fix to its sagging bottom line.” He adds, “while Walmart’s new stores will bring jobs, they are not living-wage jobs and are unlikely to bring prosperity.” Critics also note that corporate retailers are “poised to take more advantage” of public funds like the statewide and national Healthy Food Financing Initiatives than local retailers, as they can set up stores more quickly and prolifically.
Companies like Walmart and Walgreens already enjoy considerable advantages over local retailers, as they’ve boasted. These recent policy initiatives only reinforce that advantage.
Alternatives to the supermarket solution, however, abound. Entrepreneur Dana Frasz is soon launching Food Shift in West Oakland, “a delivery service that is the missing link between wasted food and people who need it.” Helming a refrigerated truck, Food Shift will collect safe food that will otherwise go wasted from participating businesses, and either compost them or deliver them to local agencies. Frasz recently attended a packed Berkeley legal clinic for local food entrepreneurs in low-income communities of color, who face additional barriers to funding and legal counsel compared to national retailers.
Another innovator, Natasha Bowens, is amplifying the personal stories of fellow farmers of color in her photo documentary “The COLOR of FOOD.” Through community-supported agriculture programs and farmers’ markets, farmers of color across America are “creating control over our food, and self determination through jobs and regional economies,” says Bowens.
Innovators like Frasz and those Bowens highlights are thinking beyond access when it comes to food deserts, working to secure good jobs and sustainable livelihoods in addition to good food. “Walgreens, CVS, Walmart and other big stores are not invested in the community,” Frasz says. “We need to encourage the growth of businesses that care about the community, are open to community input, will employ locals at a living wage and will invest their profits back into the community.”
Joseph Jung is a research intern at the Applied Research Center, which publishes Colorlines.com.

Walmart Can’t Lead Us Out of the Food Desert

Grocery shopping at Walmart in Gladstone, Mo. Photo: Creative Commons/Walmart Stores
Thursday, October 27 2011, 9:45 AM EST Tags: food, obesity
62


166


The very mention of “food deserts” is a call to action, evoking images of vacant lots, liquor stores and bodegas stocked only with expiration date-defying processed foods. But while the metaphor of parched food deserts is compelling, it may also be limiting the conversation on food, because it suggests that the solution is as simple as expanding large supermarket chains.
In fact, researchers have found that supermarkets often create as many problems as they solve. Some grassroots food activists are coming up with promising alternatives to the supermarket strategy. But their ideas aren’t getting nearly as much support from recent state and federal initiatives to eradicate food deserts as are corporations’ plans to tap new markets.
“Access is only one piece of the puzzle,” writes Eric Holt-Gimenez, a food systems researcher and executive director of Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy, in a recent Huffington Post essay. Holtz-Gimenez points to the broader food economy as the core problem when it comes to our diet and health, and to more targeted local initiatives as the solution. “Rather than having their food dollar spirited off to the retail monopoly’s corporate coffers, these [grassroots] alternatives could potentially keep it in the community, where it can recirculate as much as five times,” he says.
While pledges to eliminate food deserts are noble, the narrow focus on expanding access to retailers may be overlooking the more structural underpinnings of poor health, particularly the lack of good jobs and surfeit of fast food restaurants in communities of color. Even the federal definition for food deserts (communities in at least one-third of residents live over a mile from a supermarket) only focuses on large retail stores, leading to policy initiatives and campaigns that leave out small groceries and family-owned operations.
California became the most recent state to launch a sweeping food-access initiative when Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Healthy Food Financing Initiative into law on Oct. 6. The bill—modeled after similar initiatives in Pennsylvania and New York and promoted by the Obama administration—declares that “access to healthy food items is a basic human right.” It sets up a fund that supports food retailers operating in the supermarket-dry communities.
In passing the bill, California joined the growing ranks of legislatures and private companies vowing this past year to fight food deserts. Earlier this year, the USDA comprehensively mapped the country’s food deserts for the first time. First Lady Michelle Obama also pledged to completely eradicate food deserts in America by 2017, saying that if people want to eat healthily, “they shouldn’t have to take three city buses…to go to another community to make that possible.” Corporate retailers have answered the call; in July, executives from Walmart, SUPERVALU, and Walgreens promised to open or expand 1,500 stores in communities designated as food deserts, a move that First Lady Obama touted as “a huge victory for folks all across this country.”
But as public awareness and action over food deserts reach a new high-water mark, some critics are now challenging the very notion that supermarkets are the solution. A recent study that tracked over 5,000 people in several cities over 15 years found that greater access to supermarkets “was generally unrelated to diet quality.” Low income levels, abundant fast food restaurants and race, on the other hand, were much more reliable predictors of poor diet and health than the number of supermarkets.
The U.S. Office of Minority Health states that in 2009, Latinos and African Americans were respectively 1.2 and 1.5 times as likely to be obese as whites, with the racial disparities even more pronounced among children. Another study from the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, which comprehensively reviewed 40 fast-food studies, found that body mass indexes were generally higher in areas that had fast food restaurants, and that fast food restaurants were universally more prevalent in poor and minority communities.
“Food retail is only one component of the total food environment that affects how people eat and, more fundamentally, their health,” explain researchers from the National Academy of Sciences in a 2009 study. “The supply of healthy food will not suddenly induce people to buy and eat such food over less-healthy options, especially when relative prices of the healthier foods are high.”
Large retailers and their proponents counter that their sheer clout makes them uniquely capable of serving the millions of Americans living in food deserts. Corporate retailers boast larger distribution networks, ample funding and the ability to borrow at attractive rates, allowing them to offer food at a lower cost and greater scale than smaller companies.
“With more than 140 million customers each week, Walmart is uniquely positioned to make a difference by making food healthier and more affordable to everyone,” declared the company in a January press release. “We will use our size and scale to reduce the price premium on these types of products whenever possible.”
Lawmakers have presumably been swayed by this argument. With their recent financing initiatives and health campaigns, lawmakers nationwide have aggressively courted corporate solutions rather than grassroots ones. However, this relatively narrow focus on supermarket expansion is arguably introducing a host of new problems even deeper than inadequate food access.
In 2006, researchers found that a Walmart store in Chicago’s West Side displaced local retailers and “reduced employment in nearby zip codes.” Rather than revitalizing food deserts, urban expansion by national retailers may in fact exacerbate such communities’ health and economic woes by driving away local businesses and food alternatives.
“For Walmart, urban expansion has nothing to do with food deserts,” cautions Holt-Gimenez. “Walmart desperately needs a fix to its sagging bottom line.” He adds, “while Walmart’s new stores will bring jobs, they are not living-wage jobs and are unlikely to bring prosperity.” Critics also note that corporate retailers are “poised to take more advantage” of public funds like the statewide and national Healthy Food Financing Initiatives than local retailers, as they can set up stores more quickly and prolifically.
Companies like Walmart and Walgreens already enjoy considerable advantages over local retailers, as they’ve boasted. These recent policy initiatives only reinforce that advantage.
Alternatives to the supermarket solution, however, abound. Entrepreneur Dana Frasz is soon launching Food Shift in West Oakland, “a delivery service that is the missing link between wasted food and people who need it.” Helming a refrigerated truck, Food Shift will collect safe food that will otherwise go wasted from participating businesses, and either compost them or deliver them to local agencies. Frasz recently attended a packed Berkeley legal clinic for local food entrepreneurs in low-income communities of color, who face additional barriers to funding and legal counsel compared to national retailers.
Another innovator, Natasha Bowens, is amplifying the personal stories of fellow farmers of color in her photo documentary “The COLOR of FOOD.” Through community-supported agriculture programs and farmers’ markets, farmers of color across America are “creating control over our food, and self determination through jobs and regional economies,” says Bowens.
Innovators like Frasz and those Bowens highlights are thinking beyond access when it comes to food deserts, working to secure good jobs and sustainable livelihoods in addition to good food. “Walgreens, CVS, Walmart and other big stores are not invested in the community,” Frasz says. “We need to encourage the growth of businesses that care about the community, are open to community input, will employ locals at a living wage and will invest their profits back into the community.”
Joseph Jung is a research intern at the Applied Research Center, which publishes Colorlines.com.
http://colorlines.com/archives/2011/10/wal-mart_cant_lead_us_out_of_the_food_desert.html

Walmart Can’t Lead Us Out of the Food Desert

Grocery shopping at Walmart in Gladstone, Mo. Photo: Creative Commons/Walmart Stores
Thursday, October 27 2011, 9:45 AM EST Tags: food, obesity
62


166


The very mention of “food deserts” is a call to action, evoking images of vacant lots, liquor stores and bodegas stocked only with expiration date-defying processed foods. But while the metaphor of parched food deserts is compelling, it may also be limiting the conversation on food, because it suggests that the solution is as simple as expanding large supermarket chains.
In fact, researchers have found that supermarkets often create as many problems as they solve. Some grassroots food activists are coming up with promising alternatives to the supermarket strategy. But their ideas aren’t getting nearly as much support from recent state and federal initiatives to eradicate food deserts as are corporations’ plans to tap new markets.
“Access is only one piece of the puzzle,” writes Eric Holt-Gimenez, a food systems researcher and executive director of Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy, in a recent Huffington Post essay. Holtz-Gimenez points to the broader food economy as the core problem when it comes to our diet and health, and to more targeted local initiatives as the solution. “Rather than having their food dollar spirited off to the retail monopoly’s corporate coffers, these [grassroots] alternatives could potentially keep it in the community, where it can recirculate as much as five times,” he says.
While pledges to eliminate food deserts are noble, the narrow focus on expanding access to retailers may be overlooking the more structural underpinnings of poor health, particularly the lack of good jobs and surfeit of fast food restaurants in communities of color. Even the federal definition for food deserts (communities in at least one-third of residents live over a mile from a supermarket) only focuses on large retail stores, leading to policy initiatives and campaigns that leave out small groceries and family-owned operations.
California became the most recent state to launch a sweeping food-access initiative when Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Healthy Food Financing Initiative into law on Oct. 6. The bill—modeled after similar initiatives in Pennsylvania and New York and promoted by the Obama administration—declares that “access to healthy food items is a basic human right.” It sets up a fund that supports food retailers operating in the supermarket-dry communities.
In passing the bill, California joined the growing ranks of legislatures and private companies vowing this past year to fight food deserts. Earlier this year, the USDA comprehensively mapped the country’s food deserts for the first time. First Lady Michelle Obama also pledged to completely eradicate food deserts in America by 2017, saying that if people want to eat healthily, “they shouldn’t have to take three city buses…to go to another community to make that possible.” Corporate retailers have answered the call; in July, executives from Walmart, SUPERVALU, and Walgreens promised to open or expand 1,500 stores in communities designated as food deserts, a move that First Lady Obama touted as “a huge victory for folks all across this country.”
But as public awareness and action over food deserts reach a new high-water mark, some critics are now challenging the very notion that supermarkets are the solution. A recent study that tracked over 5,000 people in several cities over 15 years found that greater access to supermarkets “was generally unrelated to diet quality.” Low income levels, abundant fast food restaurants and race, on the other hand, were much more reliable predictors of poor diet and health than the number of supermarkets.
The U.S. Office of Minority Health states that in 2009, Latinos and African Americans were respectively 1.2 and 1.5 times as likely to be obese as whites, with the racial disparities even more pronounced among children. Another study from the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, which comprehensively reviewed 40 fast-food studies, found that body mass indexes were generally higher in areas that had fast food restaurants, and that fast food restaurants were universally more prevalent in poor and minority communities.
“Food retail is only one component of the total food environment that affects how people eat and, more fundamentally, their health,” explain researchers from the National Academy of Sciences in a 2009 study. “The supply of healthy food will not suddenly induce people to buy and eat such food over less-healthy options, especially when relative prices of the healthier foods are high.”
Large retailers and their proponents counter that their sheer clout makes them uniquely capable of serving the millions of Americans living in food deserts. Corporate retailers boast larger distribution networks, ample funding and the ability to borrow at attractive rates, allowing them to offer food at a lower cost and greater scale than smaller companies.
“With more than 140 million customers each week, Walmart is uniquely positioned to make a difference by making food healthier and more affordable to everyone,” declared the company in a January press release. “We will use our size and scale to reduce the price premium on these types of products whenever possible.”
Lawmakers have presumably been swayed by this argument. With their recent financing initiatives and health campaigns, lawmakers nationwide have aggressively courted corporate solutions rather than grassroots ones. However, this relatively narrow focus on supermarket expansion is arguably introducing a host of new problems even deeper than inadequate food access.
In 2006, researchers found that a Walmart store in Chicago’s West Side displaced local retailers and “reduced employment in nearby zip codes.” Rather than revitalizing food deserts, urban expansion by national retailers may in fact exacerbate such communities’ health and economic woes by driving away local businesses and food alternatives.
“For Walmart, urban expansion has nothing to do with food deserts,” cautions Holt-Gimenez. “Walmart desperately needs a fix to its sagging bottom line.” He adds, “while Walmart’s new stores will bring jobs, they are not living-wage jobs and are unlikely to bring prosperity.” Critics also note that corporate retailers are “poised to take more advantage” of public funds like the statewide and national Healthy Food Financing Initiatives than local retailers, as they can set up stores more quickly and prolifically.
Companies like Walmart and Walgreens already enjoy considerable advantages over local retailers, as they’ve boasted. These recent policy initiatives only reinforce that advantage.
Alternatives to the supermarket solution, however, abound. Entrepreneur Dana Frasz is soon launching Food Shift in West Oakland, “a delivery service that is the missing link between wasted food and people who need it.” Helming a refrigerated truck, Food Shift will collect safe food that will otherwise go wasted from participating businesses, and either compost them or deliver them to local agencies. Frasz recently attended a packed Berkeley legal clinic for local food entrepreneurs in low-income communities of color, who face additional barriers to funding and legal counsel compared to national retailers.
Another innovator, Natasha Bowens, is amplifying the personal stories of fellow farmers of color in her photo documentary “The COLOR of FOOD.” Through community-supported agriculture programs and farmers’ markets, farmers of color across America are “creating control over our food, and self determination through jobs and regional economies,” says Bowens.
Innovators like Frasz and those Bowens highlights are thinking beyond access when it comes to food deserts, working to secure good jobs and sustainable livelihoods in addition to good food. “Walgreens, CVS, Walmart and other big stores are not invested in the community,” Frasz says. “We need to encourage the growth of businesses that care about the community, are open to community input, will employ locals at a living wage and will invest their profits back into the community.”
Joseph Jung is a research intern at the Applied Research Center, which publishes Colorlines.com.

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