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Jewish Journal

Jewish groups issue grades for supermarkets

by Ryan Torok

November 16, 2010 | 9:59 pm

Eric Greene, regional director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA); Rabbi Jonathan Klein, executive director of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE-LA); and Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz walked across the parking lot of a Vons supermarket at the corner of Sepulveda and National boulevards. Stopping at the entrance of the store, Greene took out a piece of paper that displayed in large type a letter grade: C+. Greene taped the sheet to the outside wall of the market.

Before long, approximately 10 such report cards, all showing the same C+, covered the wall along the Vons entrance.

Greene’s actions on Nov. 11 represent the latest efforts of a campaign by the Alliance for Healthy and Responsible Grocery Stores to bring more supermarkets to South Los Angeles, East Los Angeles and areas of the San Fernando Valley.

The alliance is a coalition of community organizing and advocacy groups, including PJA and CLUE-LA.

“So much of Jewish culture is built around food,” Klein said during an interview. “Our holiday cycles, our community culture is all around food. We believe as Jews that every person should have food on their table.”

During a Nov. 11 press conference, Alliance director Elliot Petty maintained that South L.A., East L.A. and areas in the San Fernando Valley remain “food deserts” — areas lacking access to supermarkets and showing high rates of diet-related illness. The Alliance issued grades for several grocery chains, including Albertsons, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Ralphs. The chains earned between a C- and B-, an overall final grade that averaged food access, job quality and store quality.

The chains received A’s and B’s in the latter two categories, but their low grades in food access, which evaluated their presence in lower-income areas in Los Angeles, lowered the final grades.

Other chains, like Superior and Super A, which maintain stores in lower-income areas, received an A- and B+, respectively, for food access, but both earned a C+ in store quality. This category considers the quality of food sold, the number of specialized departments in the stores, egg choices, lean meat options and store maintenance.

Smart & Final received all-around low marks: a D in food access, a D in job quality and a C+ in store quality. Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets, a subsidiary of British retail giant Tesco, which entered the United States in 2007 with the hope of opening markets in underserved areas, received a C both in food access and store quality and a B- in job quality.

About 50 people attended the press conference, and after Greene posted the report card outside Vons, he led the group inside the store to watch him attempt to hand deliver the report card to the store’s regional manager, Ron Foss.

Foss refused to participate or to comment. Afterward, representatives at Vons’ corporate offices did not return a phone call or respond to e-mail concerning the Alliance grades.

Earlier in the year, the Alliance released a study illustrating the health impact of food deserts. Obesity and diabetes rates run higher in East Los Angeles neighborhoods — where an average of 3.6 grocery stores feed 100,000 residents — than in West Los Angeles neighborhoods, such as Century City, Westwood and West Fairfax, where nearly four times that number of stores operate.

City officials and representatives of the Alliance are continuing to collaborate on a grocery reinvestment ordinance that would provide city oversight of the industry and make supermarket management accountable to larger community interests.

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