Poor people gotta eat too

Angela Glover Blackwell

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: The recent cold snap caused more than a billion dollars in damages to the California citrus industry. It also boosted prices for the Florida citrus crop. Overall, supplies are still running shorter and prices are climbing higher. But what if you never had access to those fresh fruits in the first place? Commentator Angela Glover Blackwell says in plenty of low-income neighborhoods, fresh fruit simply isn't an option. But she says even higher prices wouldn't keep people away.


ANGELA GLOVER BLACKWELL: There's a damaging business myth, based on pernicious and subconscious stereotypes, that poor people and people of color won't spend their money on good, healthy food.

There's also a lot of preaching about how inner-city residents must take responsibility for their own health. But you can't eat healthy when there are no healthy options to choose from.

Smart businesses know that if given the chance healthy food stores in inner-city communities can thrive.

Inner-city households are a consumer force, spending about $85 billion a year on goods and services — almost a quarter of that on groceries. Unfortunately, much of that money is spent a long bus ride from home at faraway supermarkets.

But when companies invest in inner cities, they're often rewarded.

A recent study found that due in part to high neighborhood density, grocery store chains typically get more bang for their buck in inner-city locales.

In Boston, for instance, inner-city stores sold 40 percent more goods per-square-foot than in suburban locations.

On the other coast, look at the folks in one of San Diego's grittiest districts, the Diamond Neighborhoods. For years, no one would put a full-service supermarket in the heart of this low-income community.

But then a nonprofit, the Jacobs Family Foundation, surveyed hundreds of community residents and found that they wanted and needed a grocery store. Then the foundation was able to pull together the capital to lure in a Food4Less grocery store and other investors into the community.

The result: the market has become one of the chain's top-performing locations.

Just up the road in West Fresno, hundreds of low-income residents fought for four years to get the city to help FoodMaxx build a full-service supermarket in their community. Six years since it opened, the store is still booming.

Cold weather may have temporarily damaged crops, but not appetites. As a Food4Less spokesman said simply, "People gotta eat."

THOMAS: Community activist and advocate Angela Glover Blackwell heads up PolicyLink.

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