February 10, 2011
Good Radio, Bad Facts—-Misrepresenting Reality
I was driving home Tuesday night on my regular route (Downtown LA to Lincoln Heights—to pick up my wife—to home) when I heard an interesting piece on NPR’s All Things Considered entitled “LA Community Starved for Healthful Food Options.”
It started out innocently enough, another story about Los Angeles being “a food lover’s paradise—unless you happen to live in (you name the neighborhood)”. Over the past several years there have been innumerable stories about the lack of fresh food and vegetable stores in South LA while there is a raft of fast food and convenience stores (see our blog about this) that offer unhealthy choices. The stories ended up generating ordinances from the City Council regulating new fast food outlets.
What piqued my interest in this particular piece was that it dealt with a neighborhood I know something about and the description was troublingly off the mark. It was clear that there was an agenda that the reporter, Mandalit del Barco, had and she was “adjusting” the facts to further that agenda.
The narrative was essentially that Olga Perez, a single mother resident of the Ramona Gardens low income housing project in East LA, was a victim of “fresh food isolation.” There were no markets in the neighborhood and, even worse than South LA with its fast food joints, “there’s no glut of burger joints or taco trucks; there aren’t even any liquor stores selling milk and bread.”
Having set the stage for the desolation of the neighborhood, del Barco proceeded to throw in a fillip of populism,
Knowing Lincoln Heights, which is a couple of miles from Ramona Gardens, I was taken aback by the assertion that Ms. Perez had to cross the entire city (nearly 20 miles) to see fresh food; where strawberries and squash were a revelation.
In fact, in my daily commute I pass by a
Smart and Final Extra
in Lincoln Heights that is as nice a super market as one can frequent. It has over-flowing displays of fresh fruits and vegetables, to say nothing of the thousands of items that could meet any need of virtually any customer.The Smart and Final Extra store is 2.6 miles from Ms. Perez’s apartment; she didn’t have to travel to Santa Monica for her epiphany.
Del Barco proceeds to compound Perez’s plight, for even when she does reach a market (apparently pegged at 3 miles from her home) she can only buy what she can carry back in her arms, “that’s what kills me, when there’s a special and I can’t get it.” Another whammy, no car.
To folks who don’t live in LA, or other car-centric cultures, that’s hardly a problem without a remedy (she could purchase grocery basket on wheels which could transport all her purchases at a one-time cost of $30.00—-I checked it out).
The solution, she could take a bus to the
Smart and Final Extra
in 15 minutes, it would cost $1.50 and would require only a one third of a mile walk. Not unlike the walk that residents of numerous urban centers endure. Her purchases, specials and all, could be taken on the bus and wheeled the few blocks from the bus to her home in the basket.
del Barco’s piece is inaccurate and hyperbolic, it is, quite simply, a thinly masked polemic.
Listeners across the country heard a lengthy portrayal of a single mother seemingly denied access to fresh fruit and vegetables because of her residential isolation. An isolation that, the piece vaguely suggests, could lead to her death, like her mother’s (which still “haunts” her), from diabetes. After all, Perez only wants the “fresh, organic foods,
like the rest of LA
Perez’s voice closes the broadcast with a quote that adds an exclamation point to del Barco’s now betrayed motive, “it doesn’t matter if we live in a low-income area…we all deserve to eat the fresh fruits that nature provided for us. We shouldn’t be divided.”
Dishonest pieces, like del Barco’s, only further unwarranted divisions. A simple bus ride and wheeled market basket would offer Perez, and others near her, all the fruits, vegetables and other marketing items that anyone could ever want—-no one is denying it to her.