What does equitable food retail look like?

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The term “food desert” implies impossibility for growth; it implies that an area is dried up, that the environment has determined one’s fate to have low access to fresh food. But any community can have “fertile” land if community members are willing to collaborate for healthy food access. Large corporate grocery stores have begun to use the “food desert” term as a public relations tool. Walmart has started an initiative to put more stores in “food desserts”, as a way to demonstrate a commitment to social change. Michelle Obama may have praised them for their efforts to make fruits and vegetables more affordable but real solutions lie within communities themselves. Walmart does not support sustainable food systems. Healthy, local food sales have started to appear in already existing corner convenient stores in order to address food availability and health disparity. These initiatives allow businesses and consumers to increase healthy options while also enhancing local food movements.

 The hidden costs of food have a severe effect on health disparities in the US. Chronic illnesses associated with food insecurity (diabetes, obesity, depression, cardiovascular disease) are more avoidable than ever. Store accessibility is a major factor on SNAP redemption choices (FRAC, 2013). Convenient stores are beginning to utilize existing resources and strength of location to stock healthy food. Before, the challenges were too great and demand too low to bother but this is starting to change (Gittelsohn & Anliker, 2010). Corner stores can provide healthy, local food in areas that are relying on fast and processed meals. They are also typically in places of low-income and racial minority settings, in close proximity with SNAP recipients.

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This demonstrates the relationship between unhealthy food options, income, and race in Durham and Chapel Hill, NC.
Source: The spatial and socio-economic distribution of healthy food options in Durham-Chapel Hill, NC. US EPA/ORD

 In Philadelphia, the Healthy Corner Store Network has made great strides to expand fruit and vegetable sales in low-access areas. They provide direct support for store owners to properly stock, display and sell healthy food. They have decals and posters that identify that the store has healthy options. The website also has a map of healthy corner stores, SNAP participating stores, and farmers markets to make finding a convenient location easy and simple. They also evaluate barriers for storeowners and the impact and sale of healthy food in order to make appropriate changes and increase efficiency.

In order for SNAP benefits to truly improve the health disparities in our nation, local movements must provide a wide range of healthy and convenient choices. Convenient stores have more flexibility with the marketing of healthy food and maximizing efficiency based on customer preferences and local availability. With networks such as the Healthy Corner Store Network, cities can stock food directly from farmers or community gardens can supply produce to the nearest convenient store. Enhancing fresh food availability in unexpected places can strengthen the scope and impact of SNAP benefits. Most importantly, keeping food supply local maintains power for residents to make their own food decisions and have a say in the sources and supply of healthy food.

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Gittelsohn, J. & Anliker, J.A. (2010). Process evaluation of Baltimore healthy stores: A pilot health intervention program with supermarkets and corner stores in Baltimore City. Health Promotion Practice, 11(5). Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3042858/

 (2013). A review of strategies to bolster SNAP’s role in improving nutrition as well as food security. Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). Retrieved from: http://frac.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/SNAPstrategies.pdf

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