Saturday, August 13, 2011

Fast Food vs. The Grocery Store

Today's Time shared a story by The Week and reported a fast food to grocery store ratio of 5:1. My first thought was, "Naturally, it is much easier, faster and less expensive to build a fast food restaurant versus a grocery store." Fast food stores are much smaller and sell far fewer products than the tens of thousands sold in most grocery stores today.

My second thought was, "Hey, there is an idea. Create a fast service, whole food, small footprint grocery store concept that could be built in a few months and placed all around the country in the food deserts" (defined as 20% of the people living below the poverty line and at least 33% of the people living more than a mile from a supermarket).

For purposes of writing this blog about it, I went to google maps and searched for grocery in Baltimore, Maryland. The map below shows the results.

View Larger Map

I must admit, I was surprised. There are many dots on the map when I really expected only a few. I started clicking on these dots and the vast majority of them are small, single site, and (presumably) locally-owned corner stores. The small business entreprenuers still exist!

I think did a search for fast food in Baltimore and got many fewer results (see below). Personally, I find this encouraging. I admit the results are not perfect as Google is not perfect and there may be some errors in the data. And, still. At least in Baltimore City residents have many more corner grocer options which, in many cases, would be more convenient than fast food. So....

View Larger Map

... what is going on? The full article in The Week went on to examine the issues more in-depth: price, taste preferences, ease, etc.

Maybe access to a grocery store/supermarket isn't much of a factor in obesity. Maybe it is the qualtiy, health and prices of food available in the corner store. I've been in a few and many of them sell the highly processed, overly preservatived, packaged food which make up the diet for far too many Americans.

Instead of a press release moment where The White House talks about how Wal-Mart has graciously agreed to put more fresh food in food deserts, why don't we create a new program through the Small Business Administration to help these mom n' pop, corner markets be a better resource for healthy food options in their communities? A combination of training for the store owners, subsidies to buy fresh foods (and bonuses for the fresh food they sell), plus education for the store owners and their customers on ways to eat healthy on a budget. We could have little cooking classes all across the nation.

This ground-up, community-based strategy could have a huge impact. It would bring people in a community together in support of better health. It would be a boon to the small stores, many of whom who struggle to remain profitable and open. It would encourage and support small, locally-owned entreprenuers.

There isn't really a need to re-invent the wheel, America (or rely on the big corporations to "save" us). We can simply recognize the resources we have and support them to do good for everyone.

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