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Cornering the Market on Healthy Food

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Photo: Wikimedia

Fresh produce is not a phrase you hear often in East L.A. Just visit any corner store and you can see why.

East L.A. is one of many “food desert” communities in the L.A. Basin. – communities where healthy, affordable food is difficult to obtain. Walk down any street and you will find a fast-food joint way sooner than you’ll locate a healthy food market. Our residents and kids are bombarded with chips, candy, ice cream and advertising for alcohol when they do go shopping. It’s no wonder that a child will sooner pick up a bag of “takis” (a popular chip brand) than go on looking in vain for healthy food.

In East L.A., the common venue for food purchasing is the corner store. These stores are typically small businesses that sell alcohol, tobacco, snack foods, sodas, candy and very little fresh, high-quality food products. Unfortunately, the fruits and vegetables they sell are frequently bruised, wilted or moldy. Temple University’s Center for Obesity Research and Education published a piece in Pediatrics that identified corner stores as a critical link in the food chain for children, finding that more than half the schoolchildren surveyed shopped at a corner store at least once a day, five  times a week; almost one third visited a store both before and after school.

LA CAUSA, a nonprofit organization that engages disenfranchised young people and their families from East Los Angeles, has sought to change East L.A. from a food desert into a food oasis, and has seen corner stores as a primary avenue to create that change. As part of this effort, LA CAUSA launched the People’s Affordable, Local, and Organic Market Alterations (PALOMA) to create a holistic approach to addressing the food desert issue.

The corner store alterations serve as replicable models for profitable and therefore sustainable healthy food retail in East L.A. We implement a comprehensive strategy that includes everything from interior and exterior store renovation to storeowner training/business development to education on healthy food behaviors to green jobs and the use of energy efficiency in alteration.

Edith’s Market, which reopened earlier this month, is the first store to be transformed under PALOMA. Through a partnership with the South Central Farmers, Edith’s will now be able to offer such produce as black kale, castilla pumpkins and Santa Fe peppers, among many other products.

PALOMA is part of a bigger coalition that seeks to put an end to all food deserts in the L.A. area. That coalition, the Alliance for Healthy and Responsible Grocery Stores, supports local legislation that would hold grocery chains responsible for the lack of grocery stores and healthy food options in food deserts.

We are determined to make 2012 the year that we begin to eradicate food deserts in East L.A. and throughout Los Angeles.

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