Great news, that the West Southern Pines Task Force is working to revitalize a primarily African-American neighborhood that once pulsed with businesses, which made it self-sustaining. However, plans outlined in a Jan. 6 Pilot editorial said nothing about a grocery store that sells well-priced fresh meat, dairy, packaged goods and produce.
Bo’s, later IGA Fresh Foods, which closed in 2018, had at least served some residents of that community, who could be seen walking home, pulling carts or lugging bags. Now, except for the Thursday farmers market on Morganton Road, the closest option would be Lowes, much more expensive and double the distance.
I talked to several shoppers about how they might cope; their answers broke my heart. Without public transportation, they were forced to beg rides to Food Lion or Aldi on U.S. 1, where prices are drastically lower.
In the world’s richest country with the most plentiful, varied and affordable food supply, 18 million Americans live in “food deserts,” defined by the American Nutrition Association as geographical areas that lack a sufficient supply of fresh produce and healthful, affordable whole foods.
These usually occurs in cities, with New Orleans, Chicago, Atlanta and Memphis being the top offenders. Some had inner-city supermarkets that closed when operating expenses cut into already slim profit margins. This drove residents to convenience stores, which may stock canned and packaged goods, perhaps eggs and dairy, again at substantially higher prices.
Recently, Dollar General has invaded food deserts and, in some areas, added fresh items as well as a Good & Smart brand of canned goods. While better than nothing, it’s not a solution.
Southern Pines isn’t a metropolis. Residents are well-served, especially around the U.S. 15-501
and Sandhills Boulevard intersection, where Harris Teeter, Food Lion, Aldi and Walmart compete. Taylortown, the other traditionally African-American neighborhood, has the mammoth Harris Teeter on N.C. 211.
Zoning is cited as an impediment to commercial development in West Southern Pines. Changes take time, as would finding a food vendor. So the problem drags on.
I have been a food writer for more than 30 years in several locations. I know food from the ground up: growing, marketing, nutrition, pricing, preparation. My trademark regarding food issues is a combination of common sense and pie-in-the-sky ideas. So I’m wondering, in a county that supports a dozen food trucks serving everything from Greek gyros to pizza and ribs, why can’t fresh, healthy foods be trucked into West Southern Pines until a better option materializes? Maybe retrofit a 30-foot truck as a walk-through grocery store stocking the basics?
I’m old enough to remember horse-drawn carts (1940s), and, later, pickup trucks driven through Manhattan residential neighborhoods by peddlers. Harris Teeter and others (are you listening, Walmart?) mount projects to fund schools. Bookmobiles distribute books. Mobile health clinics exist. Remember the milkman? Why not this?
The other painfully obvious stopgap solution, given lack of public transportation, would be for supermarkets (or churches, civic groups) to run a bus route several times a week from West Southern Pines to Food Lion or Aldi. Retirement communities do it.
I know, I know. Logistics, startup expenses, licenses, insurance, staffing — a million details. But think of the goodwill, the positive outcome. Think of the little kids eating carrots and clementines instead of Cheetos. Bananas instead of Twinkies. Yogurt instead of Popsicles.
Maybe Atlanta and Chicago have excuses. We don’t. A food desert in the middle of a wealthy equestrian/golf resort in an agricultural state is not acceptable. Besides, West Southern Pines residents don’t need pie in the sky. Tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, lettuce, spinach, celery, apples and cantaloupe will do just fine.
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com.