Tuesday, December 3, 2013

My Efforts for Change

Food Desert: Changing Newark

By: Amanda Bowen


I dedicate this paper to my passion for justice. I am a leader, a fighter, and ambitious. This is just the beginning of a big well needed change. I have a soft spot for the city of Newark and seeing the city and the people in it continue to make turns for the worst breaks my heart. I see potential in Newark that most might not see. Although it's constantly said “cities never come back,”  I don’t think that's an excuse to accept and be content with the despair.

This report is something like a blueprint/journal on my thoughts and suggestions about Newark as a food desert. Grocery stores and access to fresh , healthy, affordable food in general is something that is taken for granted by some communities. Access to fresh food is scarce while liquor stores and chicken shacks are on every corner. Living in a food desert can really inconvenience and have a long term and negative affect on ones lifestyle. I understand economic factors  make it harder for people to adequately feed themselves and their families yet, I believe change can occur.

This is not just a project for my convergence class , this is something that I plan to continue in hopes of making a positive impact on the city. Although the information presented here may make the challenges that are faced seem out of reach, the intent of this report is not to overwhelm but to encourage. Its purpose is, rather, to make known the many opportunities that exist to alter the negative impacts that living in a food desert has on the community. I hope that I draw awareness,gain support, provide direction for action, and establish a way to keep moving in the direction of progress. It is also my hope that the information is thought-provoking and will be used to inspire and help others with strategies of intervention on topics alike.

"If you want change , create the causes."-@DalaiLama


Just this past August Newark, New Jersey was given the title of most unfriendly city in the world. Now, I’m not sure about most but I know when I am hungry it is impossible for me to be happy until my hunger is satisfied. If I lived in a food desert I wouldn't be too chipper either. My mother is an educator in the city of Newark, New Jersey. She has been working in the school district for almost 10 years and everyday for her lunch break she would step out to various eateries in the area to grab lunch. During a visit to the doctor she was scolded by the doctor with concern about her health. Her doctor told to her that she needed to alter her diet. She expressed that she would have to start bringing her lunch with her everyday because there are no none fried food places around , at least not for a 45 minute lunch break. Then I thought , well what about the people who actually live in Newark? Where do they eat besides chicken shacks and fast food? Where can residents go pick up some quality produce or a healthy snack? Then it hit me , the people of Newark couldn’t eat healthy even if they wanted to.

Newark and other cities alike are what would be described as food deserts where access to healthy,fresh, and affordable foods are not readily available or convenient, mainly in urban or rural settings. Food desert can be correlated  with socio-economic status.They are most commonly found in communities of color and low-income areas and more than likely the majority do not have cars. Studies have found that wealthy districts have three times as many supermarkets as poor ones do,  that white neighborhoods contain an average of four times as many supermarkets as predominantly black ones do, and that grocery stores in African-American communities are usually smaller with less selection.

There are two Pathmarks in Newark across the city. One is close to the UMDNJ and the other is in the Ironbound section.The reviews for these places on the interet give some pretty disturbing insight and reviews for both locations:

I regret stepping into this disgusting store. The fruits are rotten, employees are more rotten, they barely keep the place clean or enough food on shelves. The area is very dangerous and unwelcoming. I don't understand why this branch didn't close. It should be torn down, that's how bad this place is.” - Eva J on Bergen St Pathmark via Yelp
worst customer service ever I just wen there and bought a few thing and when I get home something told “me to check the dates come to find out two of my items have expired just disgusting”- Google user on Bergen St Pathmark via Google Review
This is my neighborhood Pathmark & I prefer to travel to other pathmarks. I hate this location. Customer service is terrible. Many times produce that is advertised on sale in the circular isn't even in stock. I have more complaints but I will stop here.” Google User via Google Review on Bergen St Pathmark
Very pleasantly surprised. Well organized, clean convenient.-lkayne from NJ, On Ferry St Pathmark via Google Review.
One tip. Don't shop here if you're not around here.”-Paul P via FourSquare

I came across way more reviews for the Pathmark on Bergen St. than I did for the on on Ferry Street. I’ll take an educated guess and say that is because people who are dissatisfied are more likely to write a review complaining than those who are satisfied and willing to praise. I’m guilty of that. These comments are important to me because they back up my observation and prove I’m not the only one who notices. If anyone is familiar with Newark then they must be aware of the fact the Ironbound is predominantly Portuguese and they DO NOT like “outsiders.” I am not Portuguese nor do I resemble being of the ethnic group, therefore I feel uncomfortable when in the Ironbound section. My experience of being in the Ironbound consisted of alot of staring, following, people boldly, yet sneakily talking about me in Portuguese, and rude customer service. I can image it’s the same experience for other African-Americans that go there for whatever reason.

It was just this year of 2013 that Cory Booker cut the ribbon of Key Foods, the first supermarket to open in that area of Newark for about 2 decades. Key Foods is one of the better options iThis was a big deal for the community and it’s a step toward healthier living, but that’s just a step. More still needs to be done. Newark is a major city with a population of 277,727, one Key Foods is not going to suffice the entire city and dismiss Newark as a food desert completely.
       What makes the situation even more of a shame is that in the 26.11 sq miles city there are only 3 grocery stores. Out of those 3, only one of them is deemed decent while the others are either super ratchet and disgusting or racist and uninviting to the point the majority of the city does not feel comfortable going there.

I have been a New Jersey Resident all my life. I am from a small suburban town called Maplewood, however I am very familiar with Newark. Growing up I always noticed the differences between the “corner stores” in Maplewood and the “corner stores” in Newark. A typical “corner store" in Maplewood maybe a convenience store that sells typical things such as milk , eggs, bread, tobacco, a variety of drinks and snacks ranging from junk to the junkiest, and other miscellaneous things. In Newark however the “corner store” is most likely a bodega* single cigarettes, nickel candy, sugar water,and maybe a splash of questionable looking produce.

As this topic on food deserts started to interest me more , I made it my business to know why the convenience stores in Newark are alike in selling so much crap and very little good. I pulled over one day and stopped in on typical looking bodega named Dolores Store. I went straight to the drink section and there was a full refrigerator filled with C&C, Big Burst , Arizona, and Tropical Fantasy. I then proceeded to the checkout counter and I asked the man working if he would ever consider putting Tropicana products on the shelves ( I had a Tropicana cranberry juice that day.) He replied “ Tropicana? that’s expensive. no?” I simply replied back with a simple “I guess” because I didn’t feel right just saying “no” without sounding like a jerk. Right then is when I realized I found my answer. The answer is discouragement.

Junk Fridge

The name or brand and it’s reputation has a big impact on consumerism. Certain brands are associated with being of a certain quality just based off the name. Usually the big name brands are associated with being “better” and more expensive. Although they are not always better they are almost always more expensive but that does not mean it’s unaffordable. People are usually willing to pay a little more for better quality especially when it comes to food. However, it makes sense if certain items may seem overpriced if it’s compared to a 50 cent drink. It’s almost like the people of the city have the mindset that better and healthier is not for them and that's just what comes with the territory of living in the “hood.” They settle for the bad because bad is so readily available while there is no good option and if there is it’s too expensive. 

It was announced in October 2013 that Whole Foods would be coming to downtown Newark by 2016, Mayor Cory Booker at the time called it “A dream come true.”  I went out and asked some random people around the downtown area how they felt about Whole Foods coming to downtown Newark. The answers  I received all seemed to express some type of concern and discouragement based on the pricing and the image of the store. Paula , 40 year old female resident of Newark summed it up plainly:
It’s just another way to get more white people to come downtown and spend more money.Ulysses , 22 year old college student and resident of Newark expressed his disinterest in the coming of Whole Foods as well. “I don’t give a damn , I eat chicken, fuck healthy ass whole foods.”

Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners ,Whole Foods '16

When I first heard Whole Foods was coming to Downtown Newark  by 2016 I was skeptical about the intentions of it’s presence and honestly,I still am. The first word that came to my mind was re-gentrification. Although Whole Foods coming to Newark is good news I personally don’t believe it’s for the residents of Newark's best interest. “The plan to bring the first Whole Foods Market to Newark marks an exciting step in the ongoing revitalization of the city, and is aligned with the company’s larger mission to feed and nourish communities with limited access to fresh, healthy food.” This statement made by Whole Foods spokes person Micheal Sinatra, contradicts Christina's Minardi's condescending comment in 2007.

When Cory Booker first presented the idea of Whole Foods coming to Newark back in 2007 , Christina Minardi, president for the Northeast region scoffed and said “ Whole Food isn’t quite ready to come to Newark.”The downtown area of Newark has changed quite a bit over the years I must say. However because of Minardi’s comment about Whole Foods not being quite ready for Newark implies the impression that they are more worried about their reputation as an upscale establishment rather than trying to provide a community in need of fresh and healthy food access. Whole Foods is just a way to make Newark (at least downtown) more attractive rather than healthier.

Health Risk
The issues of food deserts are important because food deserts are a key challenge to America’s battle with obesity, nutrition, and wellness. People who live in food deserts are more likely to develop an illness such as diabetes or hypertension and die prematurely. Factors such as genetics, obesity, lifestyle, environment, and age may play a part in determining an individual’s chance of developing diabetes or hypertension. Many of these conditions can be delayed or prevented by proper glucose control, diet, exercise, medication, control of cholesterol and blood pressure ranges, and the securing of pneumonia and annual flu vaccinations. An inverse relationship also existed between income level and the rate of diabetes diagnosis. There was also a correlation between low income and the prevalence of diabetes.
Corner Store Improvement
What about the rest of Newark ? I think the city is so focused on fixing up downtown while the rest of the city is still decaying and left in the “desert.” I finally took it upon myself to take some action , or at least attempt to. I went to a little convenience store in the University Heights area of Newark. I made a request to the man and asked if he can order some fruits and vegetables and he replied. “sure next week.” Just that simple. I was thinking wow, If it’s this easy for me how easy can it be for someone else? Of course I didn't believe right away, he could just be saying that ,that could be his default answer for everything for all I know. I was cynical all the way up until I really saw the produce! Not, only that there it was results from MY efforts.

"To change the community you have to change to composition of the soil,we are the soil,” stated Ron Finley. Ron Finley a "renegade gardener" from the food desert of Los Angeles , California. His character is very compelling to me. What I learned from him is that gardening can be a learning tool. Newark is not unique to enduring these saddening circumstances. As much as that is unfortunate it's just as much a blessing because it means we are not alone in this struggle. If kids are not shown how food affects the mind and body they blindly eat whatever the hell you put in front of them.” Gardening would be an excellent tool in educating children and adults on nutrition and health as well as providing a positive influence to the community. I have not followed up on gardening at this moment. I do not feel that I have gained enough of a support system in order to do so, and also it’s cold right now.  Therefore by next September, in honor on food desert awareness month, I want to strive for at least one of the many vacant lots in Newark to be transformed into a garden. If it worked for Ron Finely’s community of South Central L.A it can work for Newark.

My mom has also been helping me with this idea of change. As I said before she is an educator in Newark so what she did was assign some of her students, who are in the age range of 7-13 years old,to create posters to promote and educate healthy eating. This is good in getting children to know what they are consuming , and be aware of the dangers of poor diet and the consequences it has on not just the individual but the community. My mom has also helped by bringing in fresh fruits from our local grocery store in the suburbs and giving them to her students and even giving out extra for them to take to her families. 
" I love how I see the appreciation for fruits and vegetables all of a sudden.It makes my job even more fulfilling now that I know how important and how big a difference something like an orange can impact one person , or a household or even an entire community. I have no problem being the one that provides my students and their families with something nutritious to eat.It's only right."- Mom