(re: “Trader Joe’s, open in Riverdale, please,” May 30)
In the last few years, Trader Joe’s has continued to expand in New York City, giving more and more New Yorkers access to affordable, organic foods. Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens are all served by at least one Trader Joe’s — why not the Bronx?
This spring, community groups and advocates in the Northwest Bronx organized a call for a Trader Joe’s in Riverdale, encouraging community members to request a Riverdale location from the company. Since then, The Riverdale Press has reported that Trader Joe’s is not currently considering a location in Riverdale — or anywhere in the Bronx.
For Trader Joe’s, the Bronx represents a large, untapped market. For Bronxites, Trader Joe’s represents an opportunity to access the kind of fresh, healthy and organic food that is currently out of reach for many community members. I thank the advocates of the Northwest Bronx for highlighting this issue — this surge in activity around bringing a Trader Joe’s to Riverdale is an opportunity for us to reflect on what increased access to affordable, fresh food could mean for our community, and the work we must do to ensure that same access for every neighborhood in the Bronx.
Senate District 34 is home to the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center, which includes the largest wholesale produce market in the world. Each day, fruits and vegetables from 49 states and 55 countries pass through the market, supplying supermarkets, bodegas, restaurants and food banks around the city. But families who live just a few blocks away lack access to those same fresh fruits and vegetables.
According to the New York City Food Policy Center at Hunter College, only 77 percent of adults in neighboring Hunts Point or Longwood eat at least one fruit or vegetable a day, compared to 88 percent of adults citywide. Lack of access to healthy food leads to adverse health outcomes. In Hunts Point and Longwood, a third of residents are obese, and 15 percent suffer from diabetes.
Hunts Point and Longwood serve as microcosms for the inequality in access to fresh, healthy food that is present across the borough. In the South Bronx, 34 percent of people live more than 10 minutes away from fresh fruit and vegetables. In Throggs Neck and Pelham Bay, that number is 38 percent. For many residents of District 34 who live in transit deserts, finding public transportation to get to a grocery store is close to impossible.
Access to healthy food is yet another way that systems of socioeconomic and racial inequality manifest in our communities. Low-income families and communities of color are disproportionately more likely to lack access to healthy food, compounding existing disparities and health outcomes.
To be clear, food insecurity is driven by more than the absence of a supermarket. It is the result of a network of factors, including low wages, poverty, insufficient access to transportation, the high cost of organic foods, and whether or not a community has been provided with nutritional education.
Access is about more than the presence of food in one’s neighborhood — it is about the ability to actually purchase the food, and the background and knowledge to make healthy food choices.
But we should not understate the impact of a supermarket. Trader Joe’s opening a location in the Bronx would be a major first step.
Across District 34, community organizations and activists are hard at work, fighting for healthier food for our communities. DeWitt Clinton High School runs a hydroponic farm that generates fresh produce for our community and teaches students skills they can apply in jobs and throughout their lives.
Food justice advocates like Karen Washington of Rise & Root Farms builds community gardens around the Bronx and spread their knowledge about healthy eating in their communities.
By expanding to the Bronx, Trader Joe’s could choose to be part of the fight for food justice and serve communities that desperately need it. I urge Trader Joe’s to make that choice and join us as we work to expand access to fresh, healthy and affordable food for every Bronx resident.
The author is the state senator representing the 34th District, which includes Riverdale, Spuyten Duyvil and parts of Kingsbridge.