On May 14, the racially motivated mass shooting at Buffalo’s East Side Tops Market killed 10 black people and left not only grief and devastation in its wake, but also a food crisis caused by the closure of the store that served mostly black and low-income community’s main source of healthy food for two months this summer.
On Wednesday, more than 40 food access and equity experts from Buffalo and around the country gathered on the 37th floor of the Seneca One tower for a meeting of the minds aimed at solving the groceries problem set in naked by slaughter.
Buffalo attorney Kevin Gaughan organized the American Food Equity Conference in response to the hate crime in hopes that a focus on Buffalo’s food equity problem will also help solve it.
“Each of us here today has been called here by tragedy, but also called here by hope,” Gaughan said as he opened the conference. “Equal access to fresh food is a civil right and a human right that no one should be deprived of.”
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The conference, which was streamed live on Facebook via americanfoodequity.org, began with a presentation by Caroline Harries, associate director of The Food Trust in Philadelphia, who described the many local, state and federal resources the organization has. helped implement over the past 30 years.
Harries said recent surveys show that 19 million American residents live without access to nutritious food, largely because of where they live, and that’s creating not just a grocery deficit, but a food deficit. health. For example, the life expectancy of residents of East Harlem is 76 years, which is 10 years less than that of their neighbors who reside a few blocks away on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, mainly due to ” diet-related diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
Harries said the Buffalo conference comes at a key time when the federal government is mobilizing to address the issue at the national level, as seen in the Biden administration’s recent White House conference on hunger, nutrition and health, which Harries attended.
The Food Trust has helped bring grocery stores, farmers‘ markets, co-ops and other healthy food options to neighborhoods in Philadelphia that had long suffered from divestment. Programs like the Healthy Corner Store initiative, the Food Bucks program that allows people receiving federal SNAP benefits to double their buying power for fruits and vegetables, and alternatives to “healthy food retail” such as farmers’ markets and cooperatives, are also useful.
But she added that making it less prohibitive to locate grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods must also be part of the solution.
“While grocery stores are not a silver bullet, they are fundamental in communities,” she said.
“These are really important places to buy products all year round, important places for nutrition education and programming, places to redeem your SNAP benefits, fill prescriptions, and receive nutrition incentives,” said she declared. “A body of research also shows that people who live in communities without supermarkets suffer from disproportionately high rates of diet-related illnesses.
Harries highlighted two federal healthy food funding initiatives that the Food Trust has used to fund markets in Philadelphia in areas that would otherwise be considered less profitable based on income, transportation access and other data. demographics: the US Healthy Foods Funding Initiative (funded by the USDA) and the Community Development Financial Initiative HFFI funded by the US Treasury.
During a question-and-answer session, another national expert, Darriel Harris of the Center for a Liveable Future at Johns Hopkins University, asked if such programs could be used to bring smaller chains like Aldi and Save- a-Lot in target areas of Buffalo.
Molly Hartman, senior director of the Healthy Foods Funding Initiative at the Philadelphia-based Reinvestment Fund, said multinational corporations like these are the exception for federal funding programs.
“They have money and they decide where they settle based on where they think they can make enough money to pay the bills,” Hartman said.
Tops Friendly Markets CEO John Persons said grocery chains like Tops may not be able to leverage federal grants and loans to expand into underserved communities, but suggested that there are other ways to help these businesses, such as local training programs for store staff, technical assistance and transportation initiatives.
“There seems to be a lack of elements that could support some of these large organizations locally,” he said.
The afternoon agenda of the conference included presentations by three local food equity leaders whose projects are poised to dramatically increase access to healthy food in underserved areas. of Buffalo if they have the resources, funding and support to succeed.
Allison DeHonney, CEO of Urban Fruits and Veggies, Alexander Wright, Founder of the African Heritage Food Co-op and Rita Hubbard-Robinson, Conference Co-Chair and Founder of Project Rainfall, an urban aquaponics farm and farmers market will have their projects “raised” for support at the conference, Hubbard-Robinson said.
Out-of-town attendees received a morning tour of Buffalo’s East Side that included tours of those projects, she said.