Jewish Journal

Exaggerated and Misplaced Concern

by  David A. Lehrer

February 25, 2011 | 4:24 pm

Yesterday I learned that a group of members of the IKAR congregation and of LA Voice authored a blog in the Jewish Journal taking issue with my blog of February 10, Their blog, entitled Good Blog, Bad Analysis—-Misrepresenting Reality, vigorously argues that there is food inequality in Los Angeles and that some folks here have a harder time gaining access to healthy, decent food.

It was hardly a point that I was contesting or that needed support. The distribution of food markets, or of decent fresh fruits and vegetables isn’t uniform or necessarily fair—-that’s a given. That’s one of the reasons that the farmers’ market organizations encourage, if not demand, that vendors who want a place at the heavily trafficked markets in Santa Monica and Hollywood offer their food first in the more disadvantaged, less served areas of LA. It’s also an issue that occupies the time of many civic leaders who are aware of the inequities and are working on creative ways to offer fresh food in under-served areas.

Having said that, my blog was directed predominantly at a nationally broadcast piece on NPR that sought to dramatize the problem of food inequity with an inaccurate description of the “plight” of a woman living in East LA.  A piece that was tinged with a hint of class warfare to boot. I took exception to Mandalit del Barco playing fast and loose with the facts in order to make points about “food isolation” that could have been delivered honestly in a dozen other ways.

My thrust about the NPR piece applies as well to the IKAR blog, there are enough facts to support concern about food equity—hyperbole and elitist myopia isn’t necessary.

Just for fun, let’s look at some of IKAR’s assertions. Smart & Final Extra (with fresh vegetables, fruits, and more meats than most supermarkets) the store I discovered was 2.6 miles from Mrs. Perez’s (the NPR protagonist) home, doesn’t qualify as a “full service supermarket” they tell us because it

has no “butcher, fish counter or deli


Even if one believes in food isolation, are those really the benchmarks of a decent supermarket?  Do they seriously argue that those who frequent markets without those amenities are deprived and deserving of our concern? If that’s the case, there are millions upon millions of Americans who are suffering. I must be “isolated” too; my local Trader Joe’s has neither a butcher, nor a deli nor a fish counter.

The other major point the bloggers make is that I apparently exhibited insensitivity in pointing out that Mrs. Perez was a mere 15 minute bus ride from the Smart & Final Extra that I held up as an oasis in the “food desert.” After all, they inform us, buses aren’t “waiting whenever someone is ready to make her trip.” True enough, rapid transit is not a taxi service, it comes when it’s scheduled to come, or later, and passengers may have to wait. If owning a car is the key to food fairness, then millions of folks in New York, Chicago and other urban centers across the country need our compassion as does every rapid-transit dependent Angeleno.

The IKAR piece betrays an elitist sensibility cloaked in the garb of concern and “uber” sensitivity. They really care about the disadvantaged who shouldn’t have to wait for buses or go to a store without a deli and those of us who don’t share that assessment have neither “vision nor compassion.”

Spare us the pious concern.

There are real problems around food isolation and inaccessibility to fresh produce, but there are concomitant issues about educating people in what to buy that is healthy, food choices that people are socialized to, cultural preferences for less healthy products and even (as the NPR piece suggested) the “presence of gang violence” in certain neighborhoods.

RAND recently concluded that government leaders who are truly concerned about obesity and the health problems associated with it in isolated neighborhoods should encourage more healthful food consumption, improve nutrition and nutrition education in schools as well as encourage farmers’ markets, fruit and vegetable carts and community gardens—-a multi-faceted approach to a multi-faceted problem.

The absence of deli and fish counters and butchers aren’t the missing ingredients. Reducing a terribly complex phenomenon to the failure “to put ourselves in other people’s shoes” is far too facile as well.

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