Thursday, August 18, 2011

If only all bodegas looked like the one on the northwest corner of 96th & Lex...

Promoting healthy items in corner stores is one of those hot topics in public health right now.

(Market Makeovers video)

Yet, this fad is only beginning to take off in places like the Bronx. I've been working at Bronx Health REACH for the past year, where several years ago the staff were involved in a campaign to promote healthy snacks in bodegas. Well, now it's time to actually encourage community members to advocate for changes to the bodegas themselves, such as through the city Department of Health's Adopt a Bodega initiative.

If community members in schools and churches are educated about the importance of consuming healthy foods, provided some instruction as to how to prepare said healthy foods, and empowered to work towards changing the food environment, would this be enough to actually create lasting change?  I can't say for sure, but I'm excited to find out.

The city's Adopt a Bodega program encourages people to talk to their bodega owners about possible changes they could make to the bodega to promote consumption of healthier foods. They could work towards changing the store inventory, marketing / advertising practices, and/or do a store cleanup, improving the overall look and cleanliness of the store.  Partnerships may be with local schools, churches, or other community-based organizations such as community centers.  (More information available in the toolkit here.)
I think a particularly interesting Adopt a Bodega / community food assessment project could be worked through Citizen Schools, an expanded learning day program in some middle schools in low-income neighborhoods across the country.  The students would get to work on the project 90 minutes per week for 10 weeks, and then present their work to peers and parents. Who knows how many ripple effects this could have.

In my quest to figure out how to get fresh, local produce from the Wholesale Market at Hunt's Point (the largest food distribution center in the country, located in the Bronx) into Bronx bodegas, I found out about a bodega on the border of Harlem & the Upper East Side that judging by its inventory, seems more like a health food store you would find in Brooklyn than a bodega. But I think if folks from the Bronx were exposed to the items sold in this healthy bodega, mixed with some nutrition education information about the foods sold at that store, they would be more engaged in looking to make some of those healthy changes to the bodegas in their own neighborhoods than if they hadn't seen the healthier version.  First-hand experience in visually seeing / learning about alternatives to the status quo can speak volumes.

Here are some photos I snapped of the bodega at the northwest corner of 96th & Lexington:

Lots of produce
Unsalted, raw nuts that you package yourself!
Apples from New York State
Good, healthy staples available: almond milk, vegetable broth, organic tomato sauce...heck they even have the BPA-free Eden Foods canned beans

And some good, quality grains.

Aside from Bronx Health REACH, one of the NY Faith and Justice food justice working groups is also working on an outreach plan to encourage more churches to Adopt a Bodega. You can access the page here: or email the group at,

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


You’ve seen the numbers: more than 925 million hungry. But hunger is not about too many people and too little food. Our rich and bountiful planet produces enough food to feed every woman, man, and child on earth. Hunger is about power. Its roots lie in inequalities in access to resources. The results are illiteracy, poverty, war, and the inability of families to grow or buy food.
Thus begins the October 2010 Oxfam Fact Sheet entitled Food for All, posted during Oxfam's Sow the Seed campaign.  

Today marks the official launch of Oxfam's new campaign on food justice, GROW, which reminds us that by 2050 there will be 9 billion of us on the planet, and so we must find a way to feed everyone.  The great international non-profit humanitarian organization Oxfam, 400+ scientists and researchers who contributed to the IAASTD report, and Frances Moore Lappe and Anna Lappe from the Small Planet Institute agree:  "more of the same" ways of growing food - vested interests, using up natural resources and increasing inequalities in access to healthy food - is not the answer. To meet the needs of a growing population, we must grow more fairly and sustainably.

But wait...there won't be enough food for all if we grow organically, you say. Industrial agriculture is more efficient than organic production.  Sustainably, organically grown produce is elitist and cannot feed the world. If you are only talking about developed countries such as the US, which grows chemical-laden produce at the expense of environmental sustainability and then wastes vast quantities of it - then yes, a switch from conventional to organic production may either not affect or slightly decrease yields (the average yield ratio ranged from 0.891 to 1.060), according to a research study cited by Anna Lappe (Badgley, 2007).  However, adopting sustainable farming practices in developed countries can increase ratios from 1.736 to 3.995 - nearly two to four times better than the farmers' previous practices. "Because most farming in these regions is currently low input and low yielding, shifting toward more climate-friendly organic agriculture with the help of capacity building and research would result in relatively higher yields and improve local food security," explains Anna. 
All this and more you can learn by reading Oxfam's "Growing a Better Future" report by visiting the WHY Hunger Food Security Learning Center, or yes, by reading Diet for a Hot Planet, where Anna Lappe gives a ton of resources with useful information such as Food Routes, the Eat Local Challenge, and lists of some books such as the recipe books Grub and Vegan Soul Kitchen.  I personally have been consuming less and less meat as my awareness and environmental consciousness raises, and vow to continue to learn more about vegetarian and vegan eating - especially after recently finishing Diet for a Hot Planet and watching the films Food Matters and PLANEAT
If you're in NYC tomorrow, please come visit the Oxfam Action Corps NYC table at the southeast corner of Union Square between 12-8pm.  If you're not, I hope you can tune in to the GROW launch where Frances Moore Lappe and some other panelists will speak about the campaign starting at 12:20pm. 

Badgley, Catherine et al, "Organic Agriculture and the Global Food Supply," Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 22 (2007):86-108.