Navigating L.A.'s Food Deserts

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The leaked documents, mostly battlefield reports from the front lines of Afghanistan, more or less confirmed what we already knew: the war there has been difficult, complicated and has not gone according to plan. From reports of the Taliban using heat-seeking antiaircraft missile to the Pakistan’s intelligence services continuing to support the Taliban insurgency, the documents released over the weekend by Wikileaks paints a bleak picture of the U.S. effort in Afghanistan.
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We’re worried about our kids not learning enough while in school, but what about those blissful three months of summer vacation? Sure, some children have access to summer camps, enrichment programs, or fun and educational trips with their parents. But what about low-income children, who might have to spend their summer playing in the yard or watching “Hannah Montana” re-runs, rather than a trip to the Getty? Many educators are worried about the “summer slide,” which might be the reason why thousands of kids are behind in school. A study at Johns Hopkins found that low-income students are retaining less over the summer than their more privileged classmates, which could add up to them being behind three grade levels by the time they're done with grammar school. So is the blame all on summer? What about our stumbling public education systems, where funding is scare and teachers are continually laid off? Should there be longer school years, so that summer won’t be turning all of our kids’ brains to mush?
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Back in June the contract signed between the Washington D.C. school district and its teachers was hailed as revolutionary: in exchange for guaranteed higher salaries teachers agreed to sacrifice the traditional seniority protections in favor of personnel decision based on results in the classroom. The tradeoffs that teachers made were felt in tough fashion on Friday when the D.C. school district fired 241 teachers who received poor performance appraisals. Part of the teachers’ contract provided for a performance pay system with bonuses of $20,000 to $30,000 annually for teachers who meet certain benchmarks; the flip side of that was the possibility of termination for failing to meet standards, hence the firings on Friday. This is the kind of school reform that has been embraced by both the Bush & Obama Administrations and other analysts, but teachers remain understandably wary—is this the wave of the future for America’s teachers & schools?
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The statistical disparities are shocking: for residents in South Los Angeles, the rate of obesity is 34.4%; for those living in West L.A. it’s 11.7%. The rate of obesity for teenagers in South L.A. is 19.6%; for teens in West L.A. it’s 4.1%. Neighborhood differences of race, ethnicity, and income are primary determinants of health disparities and access to healthy foods. How is it that neighborhoods, in some cases just a few miles apart, produce such radically varying degrees of health and nutrition? The areas of East and South Los Angeles are essentially food deserts, providing limited options for fresh produce and healthier food, especially when compared to their more affluent neighbors. What are the contrasts in the health of these disparate populations of Angelenos, and how did the nutritional gaps grow to be so wide?
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It started with the infamous white flight of the 60’s & 70’s— as the affluent fled the inner cities and headed for the suburbs of Los Angeles, the supermarkets went with them. After the 1992 riots, the city government made it a priority to bring full-service grocery stores back to South & East L.A. neighborhoods. While there were some successes, most of the stores that did open up after the riot closed soon thereafter. Now in South L.A., there are 60 full-service grocery stores serving an average population of 22,156 residents per store in contrast to the 57 stores in West LA that serve only 11,150 residents on average. While the disparity in access to healthy food is undeniable, the potential solutions are more debatable— how can the city, and the residents of South & East L.A., attract grocery store chains? Why can’t a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s turn a profit in traditionally under-served areas? If they build the markets, will the customers come?
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So, what are community organizations and city leaders doing to help bring more grocery stores to underserved areas? And how does the lack of healthy options impact the health of the community? We take your calls and talk to one organization working with city council to come up with creative ideas.
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