Thursday, September 25, 2008

East Harlem Update

The Runnin' Scared Blog at the Village Voice covered last night's supermarket task force meeting: "Is it sinister racism or a misunderstanding of markets that shapes food policy in the city's poor neighborhoods? The Harlem Food & Fitness Consortium was looking for answers on Wednesday. Yesterday evening the group held a town hall forum to discuss the dearth of supermarkets in Harlem and other communities like it. Local and citywide food activists addressed a crowd of more than 100 attendees on the importance of expanding supermarket access in their neighborhood, and how that expansion could lead to healthy eating."

While we don't always agree with the underlying views of those who see the dearth of markets as some sort of racist conspiracy, the absence of supermarkets is a real problem-and we see the rising cost of real estate as the crux of the issue: "James Subudhi (pictured) of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, which helped organize the event, said that the market argument is a fallacy, and that the lack of healthy vegetables in Harlem and elsewhere can be attributed to three reasons: "Classism, free markets, and racism." Subudhi offered the numerous street vendors that peddle fruits and vegetables along 125th Street as proof."

This LA Times piece is more on point, and it's a situation that impacts both supermarkets and bodegas: "Across the city, a food crisis is unfolding in low-income neighborhoods, as one-third of New York's supermarkets have closed over the last five years, according to a recent city report. Most New Yorkers don't own cars; having a nearby store is important when grocery shopping means traveling by foot, cab or subway. Well-to-do residents who don't live near a supermarket can pay extra to order groceries online and have them delivered; poor residents must turn to the closest bodegas. "The sales have been down for the last nine months," said Jose Fernandez, president of the Bodega Assn. of the United States, which claims membership of 7,800 of New York's 11,400 bodegas. A weakening economy and rising rents and food prices have forced many to close, he said; the number of bodegas in New York has decreased by nearly 1000 from two years ago, according to his organization's most recent tally."

Whatever the reason, however, the compelling need for a government intervention is indubitable, since the issue is a public health challenge: "Advocates for increasing supermarket reach in low income neighborhoods, such as Harlem, complain that a lack of real food stores forces neighborhood residents, typically minorities, to do more of their shopping in bodegas. Those stores usually lack healthy foods like green vegetables and fruit, though they have no shortage of pre-packaged snacks and sugary drinks. Residents have to buy what is available, and are forced to make less than healthy food choices."

And, as we said in our previous post, a government solution is at hand. The proposed redevelopment of 125th-127th Streets on Second Avenue could be used to insure that a new market is available to the East Harlem and South Bronx community. This should become the number one priority of Council member Viverito, BP Stringer and let's not forget the mayor and health commissioner who have made this a putative priority of the administration without devoting any real resources to some immediate remedy.