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The free and easy access to food and water supply has always played a vital role in the history of any society. Countries used to declare wars or, on the contrary, form alliances in order to strengthen their positions and as a conscience gain this access. Luckily, those times have passed, and people learned to resolve issues by different means. However, the problem of food supply is still widespread across the world.
It might be surprising but this situation is not that rare even for the countries with developed economy. In Flatbush area, Brooklyn, this problem has been going on for many years. The neighborhood has only two small grocery stores – a community owned supermarket and a Key Food chain store – with a limited number of produce and brands to choose from. There are no farmers’ markets or fairs where one can purchase organic food or compare the quality of it. This situation makes people living in the area either opt for low-quality food offered in these stores or use subway to travel to other neighborhoods, which is time-consuming. One of the residents of this area agreed to talk to us and share her story and the challenges she encounters when doing grocery shopping in the neighborhood.
Liv Bradford, a resident of Flatbush, Brooklyn, has been living in the area for seven years and definitely has first-hand experience when it comes to shopping in the neighborhood. Moreover, being a former athlete, Liv knows how important a balanced diet is, “It is not a mere figure of speech. I believe that we are what we eat, that is why the question of food quality has always been off the table for me,” she says. However, Liv agrees that it is a troublesome problem even for her because the neighborhood she lives in is quite limited in a variety of produce to choose from.
Mrs. Bradford, who recently started working for one of the major players in the IT sector, confesses that she has gone through different periods in her life, “there were times when I had to commute to different parts of New York to buy some quality food because we were not able to find anything affordable here,” she says with a bitter smile. It was a turbulent time for the Bradfords as the family did not make enough money and often had to choose between paying their rent or buying food for dinner.
This experience helped Mrs. Bradford to become adept at New York’s produce market. “I knew where I could buy cheap organic vegetables, or what day and time I should come to the butcher shop to buy a fresh piece of meat at a discounted price, or the schedule of four different farmer’s markets in the city.” However, she admits that that lifestyle was quite exhausting. Mrs. Bradford hoped that her new job would give her the opportunity to stop those endless trips to different parts of the city in search of quality food and spend more time with her family. “I am still surprised how little I can buy in a local store, and it is not even about the price of the food, though it is not cheap, it is more about the quality and variety we have here. It is so poor,” Liv sighs. Eventually, Mrs. Bradford limited her food trips to the city to 1 per month and opted for one of the local stores located in Cortelyou Road.
One Sunday evening Mrs. Bradford met us at Flatbush Food Co-op, a local store she usually goes to, and shared her story while doing her routine grocery shopping. “It is true that we have two stores in the area,” she replies, when asked about the situation with food supply in the area, and then continues, “But I almost never shop at Key Food. I had some bad experience with that store. Long story short, I got food poisoning not even once after buying some food there. Maybe it is psychological now, but I just do not feel like buying food there anymore.” Liv later explains that she used to shop at both stores but after that accident she prefers going to the community owned supermarket where, in her opinion, the quality of food is better than at a Key Food store.
While digging in a big pile of avocadoes looking for ripe ones, she mentions that this switch between the stores certainly affected her budget, “The food in this store is expensive, I spend about one-third of my budget on grocery shopping, but the worst part is that there are no alternatives.” Liv explains that it is either this store or a thirty-five-minute commute to the nearest Trader Joe’s, the thing that she rarely can afford due to her tight schedule.
After examining a meat shelf, Mrs. Bradford continues, “You cannot even imagine how annoying it sometimes gets. Let’s say I want to make a beef stew for my husband, so I already got all the veggies and then there is no beef in the store.” When asked what she usually does in this situation, Liv replies with a smile, “Well, I buy chicken… and then tell my husband that we are conducting an experiment at home.” Although Liv’s husband loves experiments and he does not mind having a beef stew with chicken, the whole situations, according to Mrs. Bradford, is irritating, “It is like living in a desert. The only difference is that it is a food desert,” she concludes.
According to “Fresh Food for Urban Deserts,” an article in the New York Times, the author states, “In New York City, where perhaps 750,000 people inhabit food deserts… bringing fruit and peas and farm eggs to the cities’ food deserts sounds like the right campaign … to make a healthy difference.” This statement surely echoes with the opinion of many people living in food deserts across all 5 boroughs of New York City. Having the access to quality and inexpensive produce is not a privilege but a necessity we all long for. Moreover, it is an essential part of any balanced diet and a key to strong immunity, well-being, and a good mood, the things significantly undermined by the recent coronavirus pandemic. Mrs. Bradford supports this idea, saying, “We all know how important food is for our minds and bodies, but we often forget that the quality of this food is also important. I bet you do not fill up the tank of your BMW with some diesel or coal, why do you then do it to yourself?”
It is a known fact that having more fruits and vegetables in one’s daily diet helps prevent different diseases such as diabetes and cancer. According to “New York City’s Neighborhood Grocery Store and Supermarket Shortage,” a research published on the official website of the City of New York, the authors also find that, “People who eat fruits and vegetables 3 times or more a day are 42% less likely to die of stroke and 24% less likely to die of heart disease than those who eat them less than once a day.” Moreover, nutritionists established a strong negative correlation between consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and obesity and diabetes levels. In other words, the more fruits and vegetables one eats, the less his or her chances to get obesity or diabetes are. These data clearly indicate the gravity of the consequences of living in food deserts where people feel hopeless in their attempts to develop healthy lifestyle habits. Living in the area where the access to fresh and organic produce is limited, I personally find it easier to give up and settle for less, to opt for low quality food. Juggling my job, college, and housework, I simply do not have time to commute to another area to buy healthy food needed for a balanced diet. That is why I believe that this problem deserves close attention and should be addressed in a timely manner.
There are a few solutions to address this problem. One of them is to use positive experience of having a farmer’s market in the neighborhood. The farmer’s market can provide the residents of the community with fresh and relatively inexpensive produce and, what is more important, it will give them the opportunity to compare and choose the food they want. Another possible option is to open one more store in the area that would focus on selling fresh fruits and vegetables. A healthy competitive environment would eventually force other stores in the neighborhood to lower their prices and sell more of similar produce. As a third option we can name issuing more licenses for carts selling fruits and vegetables. The carts do not take much space, the time needed for their setting up is minimal, and they are easy to use. Moreover, due to their mobility, they can be moved swiftly from one place to another. These are only three of possible options to solve this problem. Each of them has its own advantages and disadvantages, but, regardless of the choice, it certainly will change the situation in the neighborhood for the better.
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