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Fresher Shopping
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Inner city neighborhoods are not known for their grocery stores. With the concern about obesity and other diseases, the lack of fresh food shopping is a problem for poorer urbanites. However, that may be changing in Philadelphia.

The neighborhood Eastwick in southwest Philadelphia was the nation’s largest urban renewal project in the 1950s. Today it is the site of another experimental project. The Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative is trying a new way of improving the nutrition of city residents.

Since the 1960s, the federal government provided subsidies such as food stamps and nutritional foods for women (pregnant and mothers of young children) and infants. Many people and politicians believe this old model should be updated.

One of the challenges for inner city residents is the lack of healthy foods. Large grocery stores are rare, leaving only small convenience stores, corner markets or takeout food places as options. A 2002 study by the Food Trust revealed that the highest death rates in low-income Philadelphia neighborhoods were in areas with few, if any, supermarkets.

A few months ago, a study of similar areas of Chicago documented the same correlation—that neighborhoods with little or no access to fresh produce and healthier food options had the highest mortality rates or residents with diseases such as diabetes, obesity, or high blood pressure.

A study by D.C. Hunger Solutions found that areas with the least amount of income and the least access to groceries are areas with the highest rates of obesity.

Initiatives being Developed

An article in the October 15, 2006, Washington Post (www.washingtonpost.com) highlighted some of initiatives that are being developed in response to these findings.

1. The Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative has combined $30 million in state funds with $90 million in private money to attract supermarkets into the inner city, in some cases providing upgrades for corner markets. This initiative is funding similar programs in five other Pennsylvania cities.

2. According to the Post article, “Baltimore created a Supermarket Initiative in 2002 that has used city economic development funds to attract 19 stores so far.

3. “The California legislature passed a bill in August 2006 designed to give low-income residents discounts to buy fruits and vegetables—and help mom and pop stores carry more fresh food.

4. “Chicago’s planning department held a ‘grocers’ expo in February 2006 for executives from supermarket chains across the Midwest, who were handed a book touting 50 spots in Chicago where stores are needed, plus financial incentives the city could offer.

5. “And the National Conference of State Legislators just brought lawmakers to Philadelphia from Louisiana, New Mexico, and Michigan to learn how they might replicate the food-financing initiative.

The article summarized the Philadelphia initiative’s experience of the past two years, “. . .Despite the fervor of politicians, civic groups, creating successful supermarkets in poor city neighborhoods is hard. It is daunting to train workers, maintain security—even to acquire enough land.”

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Norma Sahlin. Copyright © 2013 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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