No one knows how to cook a zucchini

There’s a story in the Star about two of the three mayoral candidates’ plans about food insecurity and access.

I’m optimistic enough to think food access isn’t some racist capitalist ploy. If Wal-Mart, which is closing a Neighborhood Market on the east side, can’t make money, no one should expect them to give stuff away. And, it’s worth remembering Wal-Mart gave up on their Neighborhood Market stores years ago. The fact there are any still operating is worth something. They claimed it was because consumers preferred the bigger stores. It was a good idea on paper: pharmaceuticals and food are Wal-Mart’s most significant growth areas. But customers aren’t rational beings and if people in an area don’t use the store (for whatever reason), or people move away, what’s left?

Anyway, Merritt says he will:

  1. Increasing the number of bodegas in town by up to30;
  2. Bringing the Food Rescue educational program to avoid food waste to every charter school in Marion County, and work with IPS on it;
  3. Growing Kimbal Musk’s Big Green program in Indianapolis that works with students to teach gardening and nutrition and;
  4. Merritt plans to host a summit with stakeholders to address these issues.

He’s not going to do any of those things. Except maybe the education stuff, but that’s easy comparatively. And it’s not sustainable anyway. You can’t feed mile after square mile of residents on a school garden.

Also, a summit is what you do when you don’t have anything else to do. And we’re going to pay for everything through TIFs, something so awful at raising revenue they’re illegal in California. Think about that for a second.

Hogsett, not to be outdone, said he’d do about all the same things, plus a few extra:

  1. Investment and development in an app that would help community members find food pantries and offer other resources for food-scarce areas;
  2. Magnifying the efforts of “champions” in neighborhoods who can address food insecurity issues and offering training and resources to locate grocery options;
  3. Further investment in the city’s Lyft Project, which connects the rideshare company to those in food deserts to offer subsidized rides to stores, and
  4. Create a mobile grocery store that accepts food assistance programs and travels to neighborhoods without brick-and-mortar grocery stores.

1 and 3 are apps! Perfect for grandma. She’ll love getting in a Lyft, too. It’s not nothing, but it’s kind of a jerk move for some people. Strangely, IndyGo is left out of all this.

The mobile grocery store idea is fine, but you’d need a lot of them at a lot of on-demand times. The City is spending $780,000 on all these things.

I’m of a mind this is a problem government caused. I recall a few years ago when Meijer wanted to build a store in a food desert near Butler-Tarkington they were run out because people were afraid it’d cause too much traffic. No one on the Council bothered to tell those NIMBY’s “it’ll be fine”. Meijer located instead on Keystone, across from a Wal-Mart and near a Kroger. Not exactly a food desert and not exactly helpful, either. Then all the Safeways closed and they were even worse off. If we’re going to talk about race, we have to stop letting well-to-do white people with SUVs determine where private businesses can locate with lawfully-acquired land all the time.

Government caused this by letting our zoning get so out of control we have to segment our city like a novice playing Sim City for the first time: all the houses go over here, all the industry over there, and all the commercial stuff waaaay over there. We’ll connect it with a road and a place a single bus stop with no others. Voila!

The better method is interspersing these zones, mainly residential and commercial, so we don’t lump them all together in hard-to-reach places. Something we’re still terrible at.

Food tastes factor into this, too. The Krogers at 16th/Central and Southeastern/English are tiny compared to others. Kroger can clearly build stores in the middle of town, like the one at Linwood and the other not far off at Shadeland. In a lot of these discussions about food access we start talking about “access to fresh fruits and vegetables”. But those smaller Krogers don’t stock as much as others. Probably because fresh veggies cost more, don’t go as far with SNAP benefits, and as one manager told me once, “No one that shops at this store knows how to cook a zucchini”. So they don’t carry many or any of them. If we’re not careful we’re going to have the government telling us to literally “eat your peas”. Then making the peas hard to pay for and hard to get to.

Food access is about being able to get to a store without driving 20 minutes. Food access is about having safe, reliable ways to get there with lots of options: Lyft, a bus, a car share, a carpool, your own car, a bike, or a sidewalk. For many people, all their money goes to pay for the car and gas to get to the store.

Food insecurity is about having the money to afford the food once you get there and the flexibility to use benefits in a way that works for you. Sometimes that means people aren’t going to eat their peas, and we’re going to have to be okay with that. Sometimes it means the government needs to understand it screwed up, this time through zoning, and left us in this situation.

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One Response to No one knows how to cook a zucchini

  1. Bo Ward June 21, 2019 at 11:21 am #

    Well said! Would cooking classes be viable?

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Justin Harter for District 12