Resident on the East Side Cannot Afford Fresh Produce in Grocery Stores

Alexandria Iwanenko

Opinion Contributor

Did you know that where people live has had an effect on what they eat? A reported 36.7 percent of the population that lives in the Fruit Belt and Allentown neighborhoods on the East Side of Buffalo earns incomes below the poverty line. The East Side is a food desert, a low-income area that is more than 1 mile away from a supermarket, where convenient stores that sell highly processed foods are ubiquitous. Many fat and sugar rich foods are sold at convenient stores, and high consumption of these foods ultimately leads to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. These foods are extremely cheap and unhealthy compared to fresh produce that can be found at a grocery store. Reasonably priced nutritious foods are inaccessible to people living in poor communities. How are residents supposed to buy healthy foods when they cannot afford them?

As part of the 2011 budget, the Obama administration created a $400 million initiative to encourage retailers of healthy foods to move into the food deserts of America. An alarming concern is that if a supermarket is built in an area that is considered a food desert, such as the City of Buffalo, it does not mean that people will shop there. The prices of fresh foods will still be too high for residents to afford, and most of these areas lack the education of the benefit of these foods over their fast food counterparts. And, even if residents could afford fresh produce, they probably do not have any means of transportation to even get to a grocery store because of a lack of access to public transportation also affects where people shop. So, what do we do?

A farm-to-cafeteria salad bar and after-school education program on healthy eating was initiated for 11 to 13 year old students at Bennet Park Montessori Center (BPMC) in Buffalo, New York. Results showed that 85% of students chose to eat fresh fruits and vegetables at the salad bar when given the opportunity. If children have access to healthy foods at a young age, they are more likely to continue eating those foods into adulthood. More programs like this one should be implemented in areas characteristically known as food deserts. This program was a local initiative towards health education for residents to encourage them to eat healthier foods in the underserved area of Buffalo, New York. The Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP) is another local project carried out in the City of Buffalo that we can use as a model for future projects.  The mission of MAP is to promote the growth of a diverse local food system and promote economic opportunities, access to affordable, nutritious food and education about the benefits of fresh produce over processed foods. MAP encourages people of all incomes to have access to fresh and healthy food by sustaining community gardens in the City of Buffalo. Buffalo desperately needs more initiatives to bring affordable, healthy food options into their neighborhoods. Programs such as MAP and farm-to-cafeteria salad bars are important for communities that lack healthy food options to prosper, especially when members of the community cannot afford healthy options in the grocery store. 

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