Thursday, May 17, 2007

Posting Bodegas

In today's NY Post the paper covers the DOH report on Harlem and East Harlem's access to healthier food choices. As we commented yesterday, and we're cited to that effect in the paper today, "The report doesn't break new ground. There has always been less demand for these so-called healthier products in low-income neighborhoods."

The underlying factors for this situation have long been misconstrued, a tendency that Assemblyman Keith Wright continues when he tells the Post, "After years and years of glaring racism, environmental and otherwise, this is what happens." What is "this?"

Does Wright mean that stores deliberately refuse to sell Harlemites healthier foods? Or is the situation more a reflection of demand? As we said in the Post, "If in fact that department is successful in increasing the demand {for healthier food}, and we certainly hope they are, then store owners will respond as retailers do all over to their customers' wishes."

This is, in fact, what the Post does find when it surveyed bodegas on the East Side. In contrast to a bodega in East Harlem, a grocery on East 71st Street carried arugula, scallions and leaks, along we a selection of high-end cookies. Bodegas respond as neighborhood tastes change.

What is overlooked in the report is the fact that while bodegas, much as convenience stores everywhere, carry less healthy choices, supermarkets carry a fuller range of food products. And there are a significant number of supermarkets in the neighborhoods in question. The report points out, however, "There are 3 supermarkets per 10,000 people on the Upper East Side compared to 2 supermarkets per 10,000 in East and Central Harlem."

What does this mean? Is this, per Wright, an example of "environmental racism?" Or is it, rather, a result of the income disparities between the neighborhoods? Should we be comparing the highest income neighborhood of the city to some of the poorest? To what end?

Not only does the income disparity skew the comparison, but the fact that healthier foods are more costly exacerbates the situation making the comparison invidious in the extreme. The point is driven home in the food stamp story in this morning's NY Daily News. As one nutritionist told the paper, "Eating this diet long term, I'd be concerned about heart disease, diabetes. cancer, and osteoporosis."

The issue being that a food stamp recipient can't afford to purchase healthy foods, and if a neighborhood has a large percentage of these recipients, stores will be less likely to stock items that their customers can't afford to purchase. Poorer people, then, because of income levels and the lack of proper education, will not eat as healthy as people with greater nutritional awareness and higher incomes. There may be a limit as to what government can do to change this equation.