Ethnicity and class represent two ways that society assumes the characteristics and attributes of an individual and threatens their ability to access ‘basic needs’. Food deserts and food insecurities are two non-mutually exclusive conflicts regarding food, one of our basic needs, that prevail in the Bay Area. Food deserts are areas of which nutritious food is inaccessible whether the effect of high costs, discrimination, lack of transnational corporations such as Safeway and Trader Joe’s, or the geography of the community. Food deserts lead to food insecurity, the inability of an individual to access food in acceptable ways. By examining social constructions and food access conflicts, it is clear that both these topics collaborate to deprive individuals, within oppressed ethnicities and class, from nutritious food.
Ethnicity, a social construction based on physical traits and cultural background, hinders an individual from food access due to language barriers. Though the United States of America often expresses its admiration for its diversity, an example of the privileged status of English is in the signages around stores including Safeway’s produce aisle, which excludes other languages such as Filipino and Mandarin.
Social class also becomes a factor in whether or not an individual can obtain nutritious food due to the lower class struggling with finances. According to the San Francisco Business Times, on average, a San Franciscan works 48.5 hours a week for one job. By working multiple hours or jobs, grocery shopping becomes a time-consuming venture as individuals are unable to travel for food they can barely afford. Consequently, many families shop at corner stores to buy food that is enough to satisfy their hunger but not their nutritional needs.
As these people turn to corner stores for convenience, they begin to face another problem, illnesses, due to their lack of nutrition. Drinking carbonated, sugary has been shown to cause diabetes as well as many other illnesses. Eating food with high energy density, having a great number of calories for a small amount of food, leads to obesity which increases the chances of cardiac failure, cancer, and stroke (Balentine, 2018, medicinenet.com). All of which are chronic illnesses which could make nutritious food more unattainable to these groups.
This cycle would continue to occur unless we put an end to it. HealthyRetailSF, supervised by Eric Mar and Malia Cohen, took the first step. HealthyRetailSF aims to create healthy communities by turning accessible corner stores into resources for nutritious food. Palou Market, a participating corner store owned by Ali Saeed, has defied the notion of losing profit due to selling nutritional food as their sales have roughly increased by 25 percent.
Even though we try to set aside race and class, when it comes to a basic aspect of living such as food, society still tends to create a barrier from marginalized people. The cycle of this issue is still ongoing: living in a marginalized community, big box stores not wanting to invest, turning to corner stores or socially unacceptable ways of getting food, becoming more marginalized. Ergo, food deserts, which are typically present in areas populated by oppressed ethnicities and classes, should not exist especially in impoverished places since they become trapped in the hole they are in, such as food insecurities, if they are unable to invest in a healthy lifestyle.