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,


Anonymous said...

Can healthier products be provided at bodega prices and profit margins? I can get a satisfying, tasty, and convenient meal of prepackaged junk for $2 at a bodega. If I could ease my hunger and tickle my taste buds with $2 worth of organic granola and fruit salad (if it was packaged so I could eat it on the street, of course) I might do it. And if the bodega owner could make as much profit as he does on the junk, he might just stock the healthy stuff and sell it to me. Price and convenience matter in the Bronx. It's hard to eat a head of cabbage when your mama kicked you out of her kitchen and you gotta eat on the street. The Bronx is different, bro. We don't live like the Upper East Side housewives who shop at that fancy bodega.

Beyond Prenatals said...

Hi kelly,

I live a few blocks away from this "bodega." I actually never considered it a bodega and I am not sure many people who are looking for a quick bite do either. I used to work in the South Bronx. E-mail me, I am curious to learn more about