The Rise of Fast Food and Decline of Healthy Groceries in East Harlem

As I exited the subway station of 103 street, I noticed a Fresh Direct advertisement at the stop. The lone poster filled with green letters that remind you of lettuce and orange letters that remind you of carrots, stood across from a row of posters in front of fast food restaurants advertising diverse combinations of under $5 meals. How much does it cost to get “avocados that arrive ripe and ready to eat every time” delivered to you at the door and how much does it cost to walk down the street to get a fried chicken tender combo with a large coke?

Across from the housing projects on Lexington Avenue is a row of fast food chains: McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, Baskin-Robbins, Taco Bell, Burger King… Their logos are bright and big, their buildings are new and spacious, their menus and promotions are clear and ubiquitous. I have never seen such congregation of fast food franchises on a single street, and I could not name a single fast food restaurant that was not established on this street. I walked closer towards a Kentucky Fried Chicken, only to discover a sanitary inspection grade of “C” posted on the side of its window. I then turned onto East 103th street to “escape” the overwhelmingly dense fast food jungle. There were bodegas, bakeries and deli shops with obscure signs, tight spaces, and stickers all over the window that blocked my vision to the inside, so I decided to walk into “Valencia Bakery” that accepted food stamps, but all I saw were cookies, cupcakes, and candies. At that moment, I felt lost; I felt like I was in a clustered space but surrounded by a barren atmosphere.

The neighborhood was quiet during my visit, definitely less vibrant than my typical Washington Square Park weekend. It put me to thought: how does a neighborhood that borders wealthy upper east side and gentrified Harlem have such scarcity of affordable and quality supermarkets? How do the local residents eat and what do they eat? The truth is, the rise of fast food and decline of healthy groceries is a result of economic development policies that have made these sites much more lucrative for commercial developments for big franchises than for local supermarkets. A more profound question would perhaps be: how much should we jeopardize a community’s health for sheer economic development?

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~ by mojojojoy on February 17, 2019.