by Renee King
Accessibility, availability, and affordability determine a person’s ability to choose high-quality healthy foods. Fruits and vegetables are known benchmarks of healthy food choices, but are they affordable? The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) showed that in 2016 the cost of fresh and processed fruit ranged from $0.20 to $2.53 per cup and three in four vegetables cost less than $0.80 per cup. Overall, people can satisfy their daily recommended serving of fruits and vegetables for $2.10 to $2.60 per day. So the key question is: is healthy food available at easily accessible local food retailers? The ratio of supermarkets to bodegas, a new variable from the New York City Community Health Profiles available on DATA2GO.NYC, can be used to measure how available and accessible healthy foods, such as fresh fruits or vegetables, are in a community.
A supermarket is defined as a retail food store with 10,000 square feet or more or a chain supermarket of any size. A bodega is defined as a food store with less than 4,000 square feet excluding specialty stores, like bakeries and vitamin stores. Since bodegas are less likely to carry fresh fruits and vegetables, a higher ratio of bodegas to supermarkets means fewer healthy food choices.
Across New York City, on average, there are 13 bodegas to every supermarket. However, there are huge disparities across boroughs. In Manhattan, the ratio is nine bodegas for every supermarket while in Brooklyn the ratio is much higher — twenty bodegas for every supermarket. The highest ratio in the city is in Bedford-Stuyvesant where there are fifty-seven bodegas for every supermarket. The presence of healthy and affordable food allows people to make healthier choices. When healthy food is not available, individuals may only be able to choose foods that are high in calories and low in nutritional value.
The impact of this can be seen using other variables on DATA2GO.NYC. In the South Bronx, Mott Haven and Hunts Point have ratios of twenty-five and twenty bodegas to one supermarket respectively and they both have the highest percentage of adults that are obese in the city at forty-two percent. Additionally, these two communities reported eighteen percent of adults not eating fruits or vegetables the previous day.
To address these barriers to healthy eating, NYC has a “Healthy Bodegas Initiative” to increase the availability of healthy foods in communities with the highest rates of poverty and chronic disease. More locally, community members have come together to create food co-ops such as Park Slope Food Coop, Bushwick Food Co-op, Flatbush Food Co-op, and Greene Hill Food Co-op to provide residents with locally sourced affordable produce. Recently, the Central Brooklyn Food Coop — the only urban black-led food cooperative in New York City — announced their store opening in June 2020 to serve Bedford-Stuyvesant, North Crown Heights, and the surrounding neighborhoods. Based in the heart of a community with the highest supermarket to bodega ratio, the Central Brooklyn Food Coop aims to center long-term residents, prioritize relationships with local Black and Brown growers and food suppliers, and collectively improve local food options. To learn more you can visit their website.