Bronzeville is not a Food Desert….WTF!


The federal  government has taken on quantifying, categorizing and computerizing locations of food deserts.  In case you don’t know what a “food desert is” let me provide you with a not so brief set of definitions.

Judy Jones, in "The fast food trap," The Observer, January 21, 1996 seems to provide the first incidence of the term “food desert”.  The term identified areas without access to
healthy food options.  Jones article pointed to the efflux of major grocery stores to the suburbs and the influx of fast food shops to poorer urban communities.

Mar 17, 2011 –Medill Reports Some 530000 Chicagoans live in “food deserts,” areas with little or no access to major grocery stores. Mari Gallagher, the intrepid investigator of food
deserts, conducted extensive research on the topic and in particular Chicago food deserts.  Her definition goes something like this.  A food desert is a large geographic area without access to mainstream grocery stores. Mainstream grocery stores do not exclude small or medium sized stores.  It merely suggests that healthy produce and fresh meats are available.  It does not  include liquor stores masquerading as grocery stores because they sell sugar water called “juice” and a dizzying array of chips.

Now, back to the feds, it appears New York and Chicago need to join forces in combating the current designations by the federal government regarding food deserts.  According to the Food Desert Locator, Bronzeville, like large parts of NYC, is not a food desert.The New York Daily news ran a gut wrenching article about a 53 year old arthritic woman trying to make it to the nearest grocery store in her NON URBAN FOOD DESERT.  Like many  people in Bronzeville she did not own a car. The commute to the store is a painful six block trek.

That hit me like a ton of bricks.  New Yorkers are feeling the same sucker punch. USA Today reported in an article published August 15th that the Federal Department of Agriculture defines a food desert as a census tract that is more than a mile from a grocery store. Visualize this!  That’s 5,280 feet, 1,760 yards and according to Chicago grid design there are 8 blocks in a mile.  Either way you look at it a mile is a hefty walk with or without shopping bags.  Try doing it while towing a couple of toddlers and without a car.  So many residents of both Bronzeville and NYC don't have easily accessible transportation let alone a car.  Come to think of it if we are trying to be sustainable many more of us won't have cars or if the economy continues to swoon, we won't have gas in the cars.

Some other indicators of a food desert are:

  • low-income census tract where a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store:
    To qualify as a “low-income community,” a census tract must have either: 1) a
    poverty rate of 20 percent or higher, OR 2) a median family income at or below
    80 percent of the area's median family income;

•   To qualify as a “low-access community,” at least 500 people and/or at least 33 percent of the census tract's population
must reside more than one  mile from a supermarket or large grocery store.

Bronzeville demographics read like the poster child for food deserts.  The median income is under $30,000 and 85.5% African American (this fact puts us in the high diabetes,  hypertension group associated with food deserts).   When you look at what resources are really in the community at less than a mile to the local residents, you have to side with New York in disputing the Department of Agriculture.


The Chi-Town Daily (now defunct) news of 2009 quoted a resident in the 3900 block (That’s in Bronzeville).  She traveled four miles to Wholefoods to shop.  We have stores
according to Google maps here’s the line-up.

A. One Stop Food and Liquors, 4301 S Lake Park Ave

B. Vegas Food & Liquor (I think they may be caput now), 330
East Pershing Road

C. Save A Lot Foods, 4701 South Cottage Grove Avenue

D. Aristo Food & Liquors Inc., 315 East 47th Street

E. Zaleski & Horvath Marketcafe, (a cute place that’s
more a deli and it’s in Hyde Park) 1126 East 47th Street

F. 200 Cut Rate Liquors & Grocers, 204 East 47th Street

G. Michael's Fresh Market, 1300 East 47th Street (This is
technically North Kenwood or theoretically Hyde Park)

Notice a pattern?
Four out of the seven are liquor stores.  Of course there is a Jewel Food Store at 34th and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.  In the grand scheme of things there just isn’t a single decent place to purchase fresh foods of quality in the entire southern border of Bronzeville or on major streets like 51st, 55th, State Street, Michigan or Indiana.

Roundy’s Super Market chain planned to bring a store to 39th and State.  According to a spokesperson for the Milwaukee chain "Bronzeville is very attractive to us because it
is an underserved area," says King. "It's an area that is really clamoring for a grocery store, really seeking a grocery store, and we think that's a good fit for us."  That was
in 2009.  Economic downturns have curtailed if not derailed those plans. Yet Bronzeville is not a food desert.

The other mark of most food deserts is the overabundance of fast food.  Bronzeville is right up there with the best in terms of providing lots of salt, fat and sugar to provide abundant
opportunities to culture hypertension, diabetes, obesity and heart disease.  Here are just a few offerings

White Castle, 3457 South King Drive

Harold's Chicken, 321 E 35th St

Church's Chicken, 101 E 35th St

Kentucky Fried Chicken, 300 E 35th St

Shore's Xpress, 3851 S Michigan Ave

Popeye's Chicken and Biscuits, 318 East 35th Street & 818 E 47th St

McDonald’s, 207 E 35th St, 2525 S King Drive, 450 E 23rd Drive, 740 E 47th Street, 70 E Garfield Boulevard

You get the message. I need mention that I left out the Subways and the locally owned fast food spots like Quench.  Quench actually has vegetarian offerings and other healthy choices.

Addressing the food deserts is complicated.  It’s fraught with multiple areas requiring attention from providing grocery stores, reducing the bevy of fast food temples
and making certain that the existing stores are offering safe, healthy foods. Let us not forget people have to make healthy choices and need a means to pay for those choices.


 “It is unacceptable that 450,000 Chicagoans do not have access to healthy, fresh foods for their family and I am committed to eliminating food deserts in our city,” said Mayor Emanuel.  In the true spirit of our Mayor I ask the question WTF! Or WHERE IS THE FOOD?

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