Monday, October 31, 2011

Food for thought

Fruit vs Candy at Walgreens on Chicago's South Side
Last week I took a trip to Chicago's South Side to report on food deserts. On Tuesday afternoon Michelle Obama was holding an event on healthy eating at a South Side Walgreens.

For someone from out of town, the biggest surprise to me was to find Englewood is so uniformlyAfrican American. It turns out that the food desert problem, at least in Chicago, is very much segregated along racial lines. Like Chicago itself.

I had to ask one taxi driver three times to take me to south 57th before he would believe that I really wanted to go there. On my way out from the Obama event a police officer said "where is your car?", I told him I'd taken a taxi and he told me that there was "no way" I'd get a taxi in this neighbourhood. When I told him I was planning to get the El (the urban train network in town), he expressed some surprise.

I'd like to write more about Chicago's racial divisions in the future. In most of the larger cities I've ever been to there is far more cultural diversity, it may be old news here but there is certainly an economic story to tell here. If anyone can tell me more about about the past, present and future of this issue in Chicago, please do get in touch.

Back to food deserts... I had expected not to be particularly impressed that Walgreens, by tradition a pharmacy, was making much more of an effort to sell fresh and healthy food. But walking around the South Side it is clear what an oasis this is. There are plenty of places selling packets of really nasty 'food' which are high in things like sugar, salt, fat, artificial colourings and every other nasty you might imagine. One of the shops I went into near 59th and S Wood was as scary and as uninviting a prospect as you might imagine. For anyone interested in food deserts, I recommend the reports by Mari Gallagher.

Not far from where Michelle Obama was talking about healthy eating, her husband  had been paired up with something called Candy Corn which has a pretty terrifying list of ingredients that begin with Sugar, Corn Syrup, Confectioner's Glaze, Salt, Honey, and Dextrose. Eeek. I will be truly glad when Halloween, the national festival of sugar, is over.

Mr Obama found nearby promoting a different kind of fare.