The Sociology of Groceries: Why We’re Out to Change Things

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A recent post by the Sustainable Cities Collective cited a study that found that people with practical access to supermarkets with healthy food options have the lowest rates of obesity, while those who don’t have the highest rates of such diet-related diseases.

Why? The problem is first linked to transportation. Those who can’t afford cars must rely entirely on public transportation (or on their feet) to get to the grocery store. Since typical post-World War II US city planning segmented land zoning, commercial property is all too often too far away from residential property to be convenient – meaning many of those without cars must endure a long, complicated journey to food.

It’s not only the car that causes problems here. It’s simple business principles. For a grocery store to survive, it’s got to pick a location that’s not only highly-trafficked, but has enough residents and money around it to generate a consistent profit. That’s not usually the inner city. The urban cores of most large US cities are often plagued by poverty, and are often minority-majority – the former the trickle-down result (in a purely academic sense) of white supremacism, the latter the result of white flight. Regions with higher poverty generally have higher crime rates, higher crime rates cause lower land values, lower land values send money elsewhere, and that renders the area unattractive to businesses and residents alike. That’s exactly why chain supermarkets – which ironically offer the lowest food prices around – are usually reluctant to open in decaying urban cores.

Sustainable Cities Collective cites Detroit as a prime example of this. Detroit, with nearly a million residents, doesn’t have a single chain supermarket – leaving independent grocers to serve a population that’s trying to recover from massive economic collapse. Unfortunately, the placement of these grocers and Detroit’s mass transit network don’t offer every Detroit resident easy access to food. Since independent grocers serving low-income communities are more strapped for cash, they can’t offer the same low prices as supermarket chains. And as the cited study indicates, it’s not just access to affordable food that’s the issue here. It’s access to affordable, healthy food.

To put things simply, inner city residents usually don’t have access to good food – and if they do, it’s usually too expensive to afford.

in.gredients is slated to turn these problems upside down. By offering organic, locally-sourced, package-free food, we’re able to sell healthy foods for lower prices. That’s because our customers aren’t paying for packaging costs (usually 10 percent of item cost) and shipping costs (at the average grocery store, most items are shipped cross-country or, in the case of out-of-season produce, cross-continent). Frankly, we’re excited to bring this new business model to the Austin community, since the grocery industry has yet to produce such a solution to healthy food access. It’s not just reducing packaging and food waste that’s important to us. It’s helping our community by providing good food at accessible prices, and stimulating the local economy by refusing to buy food from out of town.

We hope you’ll share our excitement, and take part in our grocery revolution in 2011!

Written by Brian Nunnery

January 1, 2010 at 12:30 pm

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