The food deserts of Memphis: inside America’s hunger capital | Divided Cities

The food deserts of Memphis: inside America’s hunger capital | Divided Cities

February 24, 2020 74 By Ewald Bahringer


Right now, there are 23.5 million
Americans who live in what we call ‘food deserts’. We wanted to come up with
priorities, what were the needs in the larger South Memphis area and one thing
that came up over and over again was access to food. You can easily get to a
McDonald’s and there’s food on every block, it’s just not high-quality food. We blame the individual for so long and it’s not the individual’s fault. There’s a lot of money in Memphis and
there’s a lot of poverty. You know, we have parts of South Memphis
where whole streets and blocks are just vacant. It’s like a war, that people left due to some
catastrophe but it was just white flight and sprawl. And so what used to be a small
family-owned grocery store is now a vacant building and on one end of it,
they have a liquor store. That’s typical of South and North Memphis. Nobody is going to be attracted in terms
of grocery stores, retail to an area that is sparsely populated and looks
and feels dangerous. So, a food desert by basic definition is
a place where the majority of residents don’t have access to what
we call a supermarket. And a large percentage of the
residents don’t have transportation. From our office in South Memphis, our
closest supermarkets are 2.3 miles and 2.5 miles away respectively and one-third of our residents don’t have access to an automobile. My name is Dolores Bateman. I have five children. I stay in South Memphis. I work for elementary school as a janitor. A couple of years ago, it was a grocery
store right up here across the street but it’s been shut down for
over 10 years now. It’s just an empty building. Without transportation, I have to call
and ask someone to come and take me to
the grocery store or maybe catch a bus and it takes like 45 minutes to an hour
just to get to the grocery store. So, when I go to the grocery store this is some
of the basic food that I buy. I buy lasagna, spaghetti, rice … There’s noodles, I have
our canned vegetables, the basic meats … Right here, chicken, pork chops … Basic food. And over here,
I have the kind of quick food. We have corn dogs, burritos, things like that. When I go to the convenience store,
it’s not much I can feed them there. I have to feed them like something quick,
they’re not going to get full off of. But if I go to the grocery store, I get a
chance to cook a four-course meal. Hey, how are you? This is a typical Memphis
convenience store. They have a little produce which I’m proud. They have some potatoes and onions. But if you notice right behind,
there are sodas. Two-litre sodas and snack foods, so
cookies and chips and candy and Kool-Aid. Whole aisles of chips. Even more soda. Sugary American breakfast food, cereals. Mechanically separated chicken which is
already kind of scary sounding. Contains 2% or less of beef, pork, and so those are
the type of ingredients that you’re getting. This is pretty typical of what people have
access to just walking up in their neighbourhood. So the ingredients in grape drink … I don’t know what anything
is other than water. My name is Michelle Williams.
I live in South Memphis. I’ve been here in all my life. They used to have grocery stores in
South Memphis, now they don’t. So, I had to go to the bus stop
and I had to wait on the 4 Walker. and I rode it to the North Terminal. And then I transfer to a 2. The journey to the grocery store takes,
I’d say, an hour and a half if the bus comes on time. When I go to the grocery
store, I get everything that I need. Having to take two buses is stressful
and it’s frustrating but I still had to go, you know,
to have food in the house. East Memphis is a majority white, upper
middle class and wealthy area. Affluent people who own multiple automobiles have
choices and much access to fresh food. And so, we’re in a parking lot of a
well-known brand, Whole Foods, and across the street,
there is a national grocery store chain. That same chain has a very upscale store
on the other side of the movie theatre and just a mile and a half away,
is a Sprouts grocery store. Not even a mile east of here is a Fresh Market. This is very different
from the experience of Memphians four or five miles north of here, six miles
south-west of here in South Memphis in the most distressed neighbourhoods. The irony is that as integration of
neighbourhoods became more prevalent, a lot of folks moved out of those
neighbourhoods. So, the people that remained where we
now have these food deserts are people that simply did not have the resources to move. The challenges are multiple. When grocery store operators look at:
can they make money? The answer from their perspective
is: possibly but probably not. So this site is one of
the sites that we identified as a potential location for a
grocery store in South City. This probably would have been the most ideal
site for a grocery store operator. The property was on the market – it was at a
price point frankly that was just above our ability to pay as well as try to
provide incentives to the grocery store operator to make it an economically viable opportunity. So over time it’s now been acquired by one
of our local craft brewery companies and they’re building a brewery that
hopefully will provide some jobs for the residents. It will help them from an economic standpoint,
it’ll be a great addition to the city but unfortunately it won’t be available
for a grocery store. Redlining is a federal policy from the 1930s. The Federal Housing Administration
and policy makers decided to work with the lending institutions to draw maps, to talk about where it was best to lend
their money for residential mortgages. They talked about the high-risk areas
where they did not want to make investments because the chance of them
being repaid were low and those areas and cities look like areas where
moderate and poor people lived and where black and minorities lived. When banks won’t make investments
in residential mortgages, they also don’t make
investments in small businesses. The sad part is that this redlining map is
almost identical to how lenders make residential mortgages in 2019. Can you help me find all the grains or starches? I was trained to educate families
on healthy eating. Common health issues we see with our patients range from pre-diabetes to full-blown type 2
diabetes to hypertension, to elevated blood pressure … These are things that we
commonly were thinking of with your middle-aged parents or even grandparents
and now we’re seeing them in children that are eight, nine and 10 and fourth
grade and middle school. Zucchini, that’s a weird word . Zucchini.
– Zucchini. Sounds like bikini. Bikini? Yeah! That’s what we are chopping today. Every corner you turn,
there’s always a fast food restaurant but if we can get more restaurants in
our city where you can eat healthy food, especially in certain communities in
certain areas, we would actually love that. We blame the individual for so long and
we have to start seeing that that’s not working. It’s not the individual’s fault. It is our entire environment and we’re not going to see changes in health until
we go out into the community and create change. South Memphis farmers market is
in its 10th season. It came about because
of a neighbourhood plan called the South Memphis
revitalisation action plan. We wanted to come up with priorities, what
were the needs in the neighbourhood and one thing that came up over and over
again was access to food. I’m one of the seniors that over the years,
things have just moved away from us. So when works brought this to us,
this was a godsend. We should have more of these. I’m loving it. The gatekeeper of income, lower poverty, house in
my home is a feared giant in the seven kingdoms. The next time my dad gotta pay
for our food with stamps your mouths better stay shut. Your eyes better stay glued
to your grocery bag to the woman who said my cousin was a burden. To the man who said my EBT card is an eyesore Isn’t this American flag looking at me ain’t enough? Imagine.