Ahh, May. It’s a month when people picnic, eat outdoors, and enjoy the plethora of produce, especially that grown regionally. But there is much grumbling in Highland Park, where banks and boutiques abound, that it’s now inconveniently necessary to go to the periphery to grocery shop since Tom Thumb left the Village.
People, especially women who still do the vast majority of grocery shopping, don’t like to adjust to an unfamiliar store. Imagine, then, what it is like for those working poor and impoverished who live in what have been dubbed “food deserts.”
There are swaths of Dallas where people must take multiple buses, often toting a child, just to get to a grocery store, as KERA has pointed out. Convenience stores, often outnumbered by pawn shops and liquor stores, are the only places to shop in the Jubilee Park area, where the average income is about $14,000. Their closest grocery is the Whole Foods in Lakewood, and that’s not where they’re going to go. Moreover, even when able to get to a grocery, those pinching pennies will discover fresh is not a bargain.
Years ago, when my daughter got her first job in D.C., she called to wail: “Mom, do you know how expensive it is to eat healthy? I can’t afford fish!” Cheap fillers are fattening, hence the obesity epidemic and the attendant health problems.
Studies show that the number of grocery stores does not impact the obesity of the poor; it is the stress of poverty itself that leads to eating junk. I know chips and cheese are comfort foods and cereal is cheaper than fruit, but I’m not buying that argument. I’ve served up enough meals at shelters to know that the salads and fruit are devoured just as quickly as the casseroles and sandwiches.
It hasn’t been that long since everyone had relatives in rural areas who knew where to pick blackberries and how to grow greens. Fresh is fresh. Going to the farmers’ markets and groceries is a sensual delight right now, if you can get there. What are we doing about it in Dallas?
Michael Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College, has done an amazing job with the We Over Me Farm program, introducing agricultural education and partnering with the locals to develop a farmers’ market in southern Dallas. Communities in Schools of the Dallas Region has addressed the lack of knowledge about healthy eating with a gardening project at Ebby Halliday Elementary School in the Hampton Road area. Jubilee Park has tried to provide a farmers’ market for the Fair Park area but has had to cut back with the increased expense of produce and their limited budget.
The North Texas Food Bank does a great job in distributing goods. Minyards has valiantly put a grocery store on MLK, but frankly, the locals have not been kind to the facility. Nonprofits, churches, and government assistance are all well and good, but until the efficiency and brainpower of the private sector gets involved, our food deserts and all the issues that accompany them will not get resolved.
Consider this: food oases. Remember bookmobiles? Roving refrigerated trucks with produce could bring healthy food to at-risk neighborhoods. Heck, they could bring it to the more affluent downtown and Uptown urban neighborhoods with limited groceries. If food trucks work at Klyde Warren Park, green grocery trucks should work all over this city. Toward the end of their expiration period, grocery stores could take steeply discounted fruits and vegetables into poorer neighborhoods rather than disposing of the food. On-location demonstrations and free samples of less familiar foods like eggplant, squashes, and beets could occur just like in other stores to educate the shopper. Perhaps a government worker to help with food stamps and coupons could be on hand. Stores could be incentivized with tax breaks to end food deserts. There are pilots like StockBox in Seattle and Fresh Moves in Chicago to study, but even they do not involve big grocery chains. Why can’t Dallas lead the way with our Texas savvy?
Because from Highland Park to Jubilee Park, people ought to have affordable and healthy food nearby.
Len Bourland can be reached at [email protected].