“For far too long having fast food restaurants on every corner has taken a toll on the health of our communities,” said Keisha Mitchell, a United Parents & Students leader. In many underserved neighborhoods there is a higher likelihood of residents finding multiple fast food chains than wholesome grocery stores, which requires residents to venture into other neighborhoods or settle for less healthy food options.
That’s why Green Dot families are with working with United Parents & Students to launch a food justice campaign. Parents have reported a prevalence of rotting, expired food and poor customer service in many of their local grocery stores, a stark contrast to the grocery stores in higher-income communities--sometimes even by the same chain.
Advocating for Access to Healthy Foods
In California, lower-income communities have 20 percent fewer healthy food sources than higher-income neighborhoods. The toll this can take on families living in underserved communities can be immense: “Having fresh food options within communities can have a huge impact on the overall quality of life,” said Mitchell. “Nutritious food can change how disease and poor health plague areas that are saturated with unhealthy food options.”
Even though the Department of Public Health currently grades grocery stores, the department primarily assesses temperature control and baby formula expiration dates, and does not account for rotting produce, meat, and dairy products. “I have to travel outside of my community to have a good experience and that’s not okay,” recalled Isela Castro, another Green Dot parent. “I want to be able to shop in my community.”
As a result of their brewing frustration, families worked with UPAS to develop a report card and an evaluation process to hold grocery stores accountable for their food quality. The report card outlines standards such as:
- Stores must offer at least 10 different varieties of fresh produce
- At least two-thirds of each produce variety is edible (not rotten, brown, moldy, spoiled, bruised, or wilted)
- No expired dairy or meat products
- No mold present on dairy products
- Anonymous reporting system for workers to report violations with a protection for workers from retaliation
- Clean interior and exterior areas of the business premises, including shelf spaces
- Adequate lighting within the business premises, throughout the parking lot, and at all entrances and exits
- Calfresh (federally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and/or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) are accepted
- Safe parking lot
Stores that meet these standards earn a United Parents & Students Certified Store of Excellence Seal to alert community members to its quality. While this seal may not be verified by local or state authorities yet, it’s a critical step toward taking back the power to demand change, and reward progress, in their local stores.
Grocery Outlet Inglewood was the first store to receive the seal; families wanted to recognize its efforts in meeting the standards, and urged the store to maintain its quality long-term. Our families’ next step is to urge a number of local grocers in South Los Angeles, East Los Angeles, and Inglewood to make improvements and apply for the United Parents & Students Certified Store of Excellence Seal.
Ultimately, they hope to work with the city and county to institutionalize a county-wide program with a similar rubric and seal. “The food justice campaign is important to me because I believe that all families should have equal access to affordable high quality food,” said Castro. “We should be able to walk into the grocery stores in our communities and see fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy items, and affordable prices.”