November 4, 2009

Anacostia and the Daily Food Dilemma

As a new resident of Washington, DC, and new staff member at Bread for the City, I had the opportunity to tour through a portion of Anacostia. As we visited the sites, I finally saw with my own eyes everything that I'd read about the lack of food access in this community.

As Jody Tick of the Capital Area Food Bank just wrote at the DC Food For All, Wards 7 and 8 suffer from the lack of supermarkets that offer healthy and affordable food. To see the disparity ourselves, we toured through two very different locations: the new Giant in the Congress Heights neighborhood of Ward 8 and the Anacostia Warehouse Supermarket (right across the street from Bread for the City's Southeast Office).

Walking into the Giant, which recently opened in December of 2007, the smell of fresh produce wafted past my nose, and I was struck by the colorful and varied assortment of fruits and vegetables. The shelves were fully stocked—with a variety of meats, grains, cooking amenities, and so forth. Healthy options, such as whole wheat tortillas and bread, were placed in prominent locations throughout the store. The building was large enough that we were able to navigate the store with little congestion just a little before rush hour. I was impressed by what I saw, and believe that the relatively new supermarket is an encouraging improvement for the residents nearby.

But this one store can't serve such a broad geographic area and dense population. There are still not enough supermarkets for the residents of River East. And when we popped our heads into the Anacostia Warehouse Supermarket just a block west of Bread For the City’s Southeast Office, we were surprised at the difference.

At first glance, one would think little of the store from its exterior. A nice-looking sign, but the very bleak and barred storefront blended into the street and did little to induce people to stop and shop. Once in the store, the first items that came into eyesight—once they properly adjusted to the dark—were stacks of alcoholic beverages. We turned full circle and witnessed cases of Cup of Noodles, Twinkies, chips, pork rinds, and other foods that that scream: "Diabetes! High cholesterol! Malnutrition!" Much of the food is both costly and a glut of carbohydrates and fats.

Behind the boxes of snacks and sweets, in the back recesses of the store, we found a selection of fresh meats and produce, both of which were modest. There was a variety, but the prices were a little high and some items looked a little mealy. A butcher was in the back, inhabiting a slightly grimy space, while the vegetables lined the farthest wall of the store.

Whereas in Giant my eyes were met with the rainbow of ripe foods and an array of healthy foods, the Anacostia Warehouse Supermarket did little to promote its fresh offerings.

As noted in And Now, Anacostia, the very presence of the store is a step in the right direction. However, a rearrangement of the interior and perhaps a renovation of the exterior would make this store more inviting and help to target the truly nutritious foods that our community needs.

Let’s take a closer look at shopping in River East from the eyes of the local community. I surveyed a few people coming to Bread for emergency groceries, and the resounding response to the grocery query suggests that there is, in fact, a lot of demand for more and better stores.

Many mentioned shopping at the Tiger Mart, Murray’s, Safeway and Giant, but rarely at local corner stores. One woman stated, “The corner stores? That’s highway robbery.” Instead, as another woman stated “I have to walk ten blocks to get to Safeway. Bread there is 89 cents, and in the corner store it’s $1.99.”

But even the larger stores aren’t satisfactory in Anacostia. Terms such as “obnoxious” and “ridiculous” were used. Another gentleman noted that it’s 4 or 5 miles to get to the nearest supermarket from his house and sometimes the stores aren't stocked with what he needs. Or, as two women voiced, the meat doesn’t last very long. One customer stated, “it’s not fair in the lower income neighborhoods.”

And this is why people often end up at our door. We can help with a short-term supplement with our bag of 3 days worth of groceries. The Healthy Corner Store Program is another way to begin the transition within stores to provide healthier options. But there is much more to be done in order to create a more equitable community food system in River East.

1 comment:

The Advoc8te said...

Nice article. FYI - The Giant is in the Congress Heights neighborhood of Ward 8. We are trying to enourage the use of specific neighborhood names here when we can. Thanks!