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    Friday, January 20, 2006

    Step Away From the Bodega

    NYT on new low-fat milk plan for bodegas in low-income neighborhoods:

    Look in just about any bodega in the city's poorer neighborhoods and it is easy to find shelves well-stocked with potato chips, sodas and doughnuts. But just try to find something healthier like fruits or vegetables.

    The owner and workers at El Barrio Superette, a bodega in Harlem, wore T-shirts Thursday that encouraged customers to try low-fat milk. The city's Health and Mental Hygiene Department is promoting the program.

    For many low-income city residents, such bodegas are more common shopping options than supermarkets with a much larger roster of healthy items.

    So in an effort to provide healthier food choices, city health officials have enlisted bodega owners in an effort to encourage the sale of low-fat milk. ...

    Besides announcing the milk program yesterday, the Health and Mental Hygiene Department released the results of its survey of the availability of various healthy foods in the Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick neighborhoods of Brooklyn.

    The agency found that only one in three bodegas there sold reduced-fat milk, but that 9 out of 10 supermarkets in the neighborhoods did. More than 80 percent of the 373 food stores surveyed in the two neighborhoods were bodegas. ...

    Bodegas are also much less likely than supermarkets to stock fruits and vegetables, it said. While the majority of bodegas and supermarkets carry some kind of fresh fruit, only 21 percent of the bodegas in Bedford-Stuyvesant offered apples, oranges and bananas. Supermarkets were four times more likely to carry all three.

    Leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale were found in only 6 percent of the bodegas surveyed. Bodega owners said an important reason they did not carry healthier foods was that they are not very popular.

    Even when healthy food is available, bodegas often charge more for it than supermarkets do. In Bedford-Stuyvesant, the average cost of a gallon of milk was 79 cents more in a bodega than in a supermarket.

    Now, I don't have a problem with this program or anything except that it seems like this article makes a case for another program. Instead of saying, "These poor people waste a bunch more money on junkier food at bodegas, let's add some 2% milk to these very overpriced junky bodegas," what if we had a major campaign encouraging low-income people to shop at supermarkets that offer better prices and more options? What if, for example, we encouraged these supermarkets to offer free delivery, so that people didn't have to walk as far from their homes? That's got to be one serious factor in people's choosing bodegas over supermarkets. Another one might be their hours of operation. Even if 80% of the food stores servicing these communities are bodegas, that still leaves about 75 supermarkets. So, encouraging people to shop in supermarkets, perhaps by giving even further discounts on one or two healthy items per week, in addition to encouraging free delivery and more convenient hours, seems like a better place to start spending city dollars. It might get the bodega owners angry, but it'd be better for the city in general.


    Anonymous Rachel S said...

    Many inner city areas have no supermarkets. When i lived in Detroit, I only knew of one supermarket, which was about 2 miles from where I lived, and what was even worse was the quality of the food. I have never bought food that spoiled so quickly. The gracery stores need to invest more in low income neighborhoods.

    8:47 PM  
    Blogger EL said...

    That makes sense, Rachel, and I think that New York tends to be very different, because it is geographically small, but, for cities like Detroit, a different focus would be necessary. In the neighborhoods the NYT article discusses, there are indeed supermarkets; I simply wish people would be encouraged to go there.

    The quality of the food in inner city supermarkets is abysmal- I know because I shop at one. The disparity between a place like Whole Foods, filled with beautiful fresh veggies and meats, but completely unaffordable, and neighborhood markets, with wilting and browned produce, slimy meats, and still not cheap enough, is truly unbelievable.

    Given how pathetic their choices are for produce, it makes perfect sense that low-income people are less likely to eat veggies. Eating veggies from my neighborhood market for so long, I actually forgot how good-tasting fresh produce could be, until I enjoyed my mother's suburban grocery.

    11:51 AM  
    Anonymous Rachel S said...

    I live in an urbanized area of Westchester, and there is a farmer's market that runs from June-November, and those veges top any of the grocery veges. That's one thing I despise about NY; I had a nice garden until I came here. NY has been a killer on my diet in part because I know how much better the fresh veges are, and I can't can homegrown foods.

    9:20 PM  
    Anonymous Rachel said...

    PS- the other issue with the bodegas/mom and pop stores is the prices.

    9:22 PM  
    Blogger EL said...

    You're so right about the prices. That's a big part of why I wish they'd start a pro-supermarket campaign; especially for folks on food stamps- they go a hell of a lot farther at the market than the bodega!

    4:18 PM  

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