Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Grocery Shopping By Bus

I found this photo essay from the Oregonian, from last November I think:
Grocery Shopping By Bus

Here are a few:

It reminded me of this quote from Michael Pollan's recent interview in Mother Jones:1
Mother Jones: The food activism community is criticized as being elitist, blind to the issues of cost. How do we democratize better quality?

Michael Pollan: It is the important question. (Pollan's emphasis.)
1 Michael Pollan Fixes Dinner, Mother Jones, March/April 2009


Anonymous said...

So what you are saying is that she takes the bus to go meet her local farmer so they can discuss what local products the farmer can grow just for her. I don't know understand how this is elitist. Isn't that the way everyone shops?

Family Nutritionist said...

I bet a lot of regulations prevent people from selling produce on the side of a city street or from the back of a truck. I think the Italian Market is Philadelphia's only street market, though I used to sometimes by produce from the back of a truck SW of 30th street station, 20 years ago.

Matt said...

+1 Ronald.

Perhaps community gardening will become the "everyman's" local food. I work with community gardens and interest has doubled in the past couple years.

Anonymous said...

I actually was in Philadelphia back in October of 2008, and I saw a couple trucks selling produce out of the back. My Philly-based friends (who have only been there since 2005 or so) said that's not an odd sight in the neighborhoods near where they work.

Anyway, yet another reason to have decent public transportation infrastructure. If you're impressed by grocery shopping by bus, now imagine having to make two transfers before you get home.

Unknown said...

I bet this area has some zoning and other regulations that prevent outdoor markets from flourishing. They don't need to be ecological markets either. Where I now live in Sweden has street markets and they are an important shopping and gathering place for people, esp. immigrants. The tomatoes might be conventional, but the sellers are small businesses, often run by immigrant families, and the markets are easily accessible by walking.

Family Nutritionist said...

Anyone know if the cheap-produce trucks frequent the grocery-free neighborhoods of Philly?

Bix said...

@Family I don't know about today. But ... I've spent years walking the streets of Philly. (It was a haul from my train stop to my office.) One familiar site - trucks and street vendors. Always soft pretzels and hot dogs. Some sold trays of cut-up fruit, long lines at those. I wondered how they could keep pathogens down without running water? Trucks in dark back alleys with their backs open and boxes of produce and ? inside.

Licensed businesses complained that they had to pay taxes and fees but the trucks didn't. Residents complained about the parking/traffic problem. (Some residents loved them.) I've seen cops talking to them in the a.m., and in the p.m. they'd be gone.

By the way, the street drug trade really took off. Hot corners were near where commuters went underground to catch trains. Right out in the open. Talk about an underground economy.

Anonymous said...

My point was that the woman pictured probably went to the nearest available supermarket, one close to the bus line, and bought whatever the store offered. She may be a very discriminating shopper but has a limited selection. All the talk about buying local and buying only certain organic brands from a trusted source is not in touch with the realities of those with limited means. We need stronger labeling laws and stronger enforcement of sanitary standards for the masses who shop in supermarkets. Saying that your local farmer offers the best food just to you is so elitist and insular it sickens me.

Matt said...

Ronald- I agree with what you were saying and I was giving you props for an excellent snarky comment.

In Vermont, there will be a "veggie" truck this summer selling affordable produce.

Anonymous said...


I agree with the point you make, but I don't think food activists are limited to a single refrain of how people should opt out of grocery stores completely and hit the farmers' market or farms to get goods grown fifty feet from their backyards. The food activists I know are also passionate about labeling (GMOs, irradiated, country of origin, etc) in all stores, stronger food safety systems in place (and accountability for produces/processors), fresh produce access in lower income communities (including real grocery stores and not just convenience stores), WIC and food stamp swipers at big city farmers' markets, etc. Totally anecdotal, sure, but I have hope for all of us yet.

I think the farm/farmers angle gets a lot of press because it plays prettily with the romanticizing of small ag and the foodie movement sweeping the nation, plus, it's important for those with the means to promote local ag infrastructure to do so. Finally, let's be honest--the media (and the government) generally plays to the middle class, or at least likes to give the illusion of doing so. I don't mean to say that everyone who is active in the (various) food movements is the pinnacle of anti-elitism, but I think the press potentially gives a different impression than what a lot of individual activists actually spend their time and energy on.

virginia said...

if this woman is shopping by bus, you can bet she's also pulling a cart full of dirty clothes to the local laundromat. one of the costs of poverty, is free time.

Bix said...

If the foods that are available in the Supermarket where this woman shops are good for her, and for the majority of Americans who shop in these stores, why wouldn't they be good for everyone?

If the foods that are available in the Supermarket where this woman shops are not good for her, and not good for the majority of Americans who shop in these stores, then we need to change the foods there, for everyone.

I see Ronald's point.

Keiko said...

I live in New York, and I guess maybe it's different here, but I just don't GET it.
What is shocking about someone riding the bus to a grocery store? Will someone please just explain this to me?

virginia said...

for you, it's an adventure and part of being a young urban dweller...for her it's a dreaded chore, and she has absolutely no hope that her life will bring self-fulfillment, just belly-fulfillment.

years ago i listened to an author describing his summer break in the tomato fields of california. he was trying to understand his father's life/attitude. what he came to realize was that as an observer, not a full participant, he had goals and expectations...for his migrant co-workers, the fields were their bleak, inescapable future.

Seinberg said...

I tend to agree with Keiko. It's one thing to have sympathy and empathy for someone who is poor and has trouble just buying groceries or a bus ticket, but going grocery shopping via public transportation is not that shocking. I don't have numbers to back it up, but I bet a majority of the world does it that way (of the portion who has public transportation available, anyway).

It looks like they bought enough groceries to last a pretty long time, so they probably shop fairly infrequently. It says they spend 3-4 hours doing it. If I go to one of the Big Box stores like BJ's or Costco, it probably takes about the same amount of time, and I don't have to shop again for at least 2 weeks.

They're smart about it, as anybody would be:
Because the Calderón family has no car and lives in an area of town with with few options for groceries, mother and daughter cannot make impromptu trips to the store. They make each trip count.

I don't think we should pity them because they don't live a typical suburban American life with a car to get them everywhere, no matter how hard it is to imagine someone living that way. We should have sympathy for their (apparent) poverty, not their transportation habits.

Bix said...

So Seinberg and Keiko are making the same point as everyone else? Given where people live and how many travel, it's difficult to load up on all their groceries at their local farm or farmers' market?

Anonymous said...

I think the discussion is going off subject a bit. The article and my arguments are about people’s access to food sources. If you take public transportation your access to farmer’s markets and fresh food is limited to the places available on the public transportation routes, the time available in your schedule to shop for food, and limits on what you can carry. If you are buying food every 2 or 3 weeks at a place like BJs, you’re driving, you are not buying a lot of fresh produce, which spoils quickly and must be replenished often, and you are buying the cheapest of the cheap processed crap food. I go to BJs and I look at the foods available and I don’t buy any food there. My food options, because I can drive, because I have the money, and I take the time, are much, much wider than choices at BJs. I am fortunate to have the choices. Some people don’t. I don’t pity them since for me pity evokes a lessening. I have more choices available to me but it doesn’t mean I am better. I don’t preach that people should eat organic and local and not doing so is the cause of all their problems. You do what you can with the choices available. The blog post quotes “The food activism community is criticized as being elitist, blind to the issues of cost” and I would add blind to access of “good” food. Living in an urban environment like NY City, or Baltimore, is not conducive for car ownership, and public transportation would be a viable and available resource. If cost is the issue buying organic and local is expensive, unless it is prime harvesting season for a particular product. If you are looking to buy green leafy vegetables in February you are not buying local, or organic, at least in the northeast US. When food snobs give advice the advice is often short-sighted and insular and doesn’t take into account the money, time and transportation available to people. Food has become a snob bastion of late and I get tired reading about some privileged princess and the special organic food she has grown just for her by virgins on an island in the South Pacific. If you have limited funds and have to spend 3 or 4 hours a day to buy food you are going to stock up on processed foods not fresh, local produce. The family in the story are not “being smart” about it but are fitting food shopping into the realities of their lives. It’s not as if they have many choices open to them and they choose the smartest option. They do the best they can given the limited options available. I live in the suburbs and I drive everywhere not because I want too but because public transportation is not a viable alternative. A five minute trip in a car would be hours on public transportation, plus walking miles just to get to a site where it would be available. If I lived in a city I would take public transportation but I don’t so I drive.
Matt I acknowledge your +1 and I thank you. I reposted to clarify since my original contained awkward syntax.

Matt said...

Ronald (and everyone)- there is a great book that discusses this exact "phenomenon" by Mark Winne called "Closing the Food Gap." It's about Winne's experience in Hartford, Conn working with their food system. Hartford is interesting because there is no full-service grocery store in the entire city so many people choose to take hour long bus rides to the 'burbs.

Bix said...

Thanks, Matt. I just added it to my reading list.

Bix said...

To Ronald: I agree with much of what you said.

One thing you said, "If you are looking to buy green leafy vegetables in February you are not buying local, or organic, at least in the northeast US."

How in the world do people follow Water's advice to eat local, just-picked foods if they live in northern states and it's winter? How do you have a garden? Where are the farmer's markets? I don't understand.

I live in PA and I cannot find anything that is locally grown right now, except if it's from an indoor hothouse. Some potatoes and cabbages are being taken from storage but these aren't fresh, as she recommends. How do you till or harvest from frozen ground? Weeds and insects wouldn't be a problem ... but ... I just don't get it.

Angela and Melinda said...

Actually, *certain* green leafy veggies are one of the few things you can buy locally (or grow) in the northeast.