Side Effects of Gentrification: Lack of Accessibility to Affordable Quality Food

New York City lacks supermarkets and accessibility to quality food. According to a new report from the NYC Department of City Planning, three (3) million NYC residents live in neighborhoods, primarily communities of color, that have a high need for supermarkets and grocery stores.

Many NYC residents finds themselves having to buy food from local convenient stores and drugstores that do not supply fresh produce or meats. For many, the nearest supermarkets or fresh food markets are a significant distance away. Modes of transportation and one’s ability to transport bags of groceries by one self, particularly the elderly, affects one’s ability to obtain quality food and groceries. Food shopping and preparation is still viewed by many as a gendered task, so this disproportionally affects women as well.

Supermarkets in NYC are closing down at alarming rates:

In one corner of southeast Queens, four supermarkets have closed in the last two years. Over a similar period in East Harlem, six small supermarkets have closed, and two more are on the brink, local officials said.

Supermarkets disappear as real estate developers comes crashing through looking for those large enough lots to put luxury residential buildings, and as landlords deny lease renewals in order to seek something more profitable, or want to raise rents by ridiculous amounts:

Executives at Pick Quick Foods, which owns the supermarket, say that Vornado Realty Trust, which bought the shopping plaza for $165 million last year, wants to double their rent to $50 a square foot. They fear the landlord wants to push them out.
[…]
“We’re at a point where landlords do not feel any concern that they are taking supermarkets out of communities,” said Pat Purcell, the union’s director of special projects. “They just want to maximize their profit. I get that, up to a point. But food is different. It affects your health.”

This also obviously affects the employment rate in the respective neighborhoods:

At stake at the Bronx store are more than 100 jobs, many of them filled by local residents, including teenagers and single mothers.

(Quotes are from the NY Times Article linked at the top).

And with no competition in town, remaining supermarkets have raised the prices of the products. I find myself having to go into Manhattan’s East Village to an Associated Chain Supermarket or the Trader Joe’s, whose prices are much more reasonable than my neighborhood’s C-Town-oops-I mean Billy’s Market (hey, they gotta appeal to hipsters some way or another). However, many people do not have the same ability or time as I do, to go into a different borough, buy food, and carry home 4-5 bags loaded with food at 10:30pm.

We had one supermarket shut down last year in South Williamsburg. Fortunately, it was taken up by another management company and there’s another supermarket again, with prices lower than the C-Town for the most part. Yet, the quality of produce is subpar and the store hours are shorter.

Lack to quality and affordable food has many consequences. A NY Times chart shows, as supported by studies, that obesity and diabetes rates are higher where there are fewer fresh food suppliers/markets. The New York City Coalition Against Hunger (NYCCAH) states that 1 in 5 NYC children live in homes without enough food; that’s 417,000 children! In total, approximately 1.3 millions NYC residents face food insecurity.

For more information, please click on the hyperlinks throughout the blog post.

For examples of health disparities particularly within communities of color and its connection to unequal access to food, read NYCCAH’s report “Hunger and Obesity in East Harlem” Environment Influences on Urban Food Access.” Please pay close attention to the charts at the end, for a compare/contrast (more of the latter) analysis between East Harlem and the Upper East Side.

Update: In connection to this issue with a more-in depth gender analysis, please also look at the following posts on the global food crisis:
Diary of an Anxious Black Woman: “Food is a Feminist Issue: Keeping the Third Horseman at Bay”
Feministe: “Food is a Feminist Issue”
Feminocracy: “the Rising Cost of Food = Very Real Hunger, Part 1”

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~ by Luci-Kali on May 8, 2008.

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