Brooklyn Boro

When bodegas are more common than supermarkets, health suffers: report

The lower the ratio of supermarkets to bodegas, the healthier the community.

August 9, 2019 Meaghan McGoldrick

For every one supermarket in Bedford-Stuyvesant, there are more than 50 bodegas, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s most recent Community Health Profiles.

The profiles, compiled by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets using late-2016 figures, underscore a present-day issue of food inequity, or, inaccessibility to high-quality foods, an issue City Council Speaker Corey Johnson has recently targeted with a multi-pronged plan.

Bodegas are less likely to have healthy food options than supermarkets, according to the profiles, and shoppers are more likely to make healthy choices when nutritious, affordable food is readily available.

In simpler terms: the lower the ratio of supermarkets to bodegas, the healthier the community.

Bedford-Stuyvesant’s ratio — 57 bodegas for every supermarket — is the highest in all of New York City. Sunset Park is close behind, with 45 bodegas to every supermarket.

In the communities of Flatlands and Canarsie, on the other hand, there are nine bodegas for every one supermarket.

“It’s outrageous that not all New Yorkers have the same access to healthy food,” said Johnson. “Something as basic as having a supermarket within a reasonable distance of your home is a big part of that.”

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For 10-year Bed-Stuy resident Rae Gomes, food justice coordinator at the Brooklyn Neighborhood Health Action Center (a part of the Health Department’s Center for Health Equity), the issue is both personal and professional.

“It’s not particularly profitable for bodegas to sell fresh fruits and vegetable,” she told the Brooklyn Eagle, stressing that, while there are already initiatives in place to help make bodegas healthier, there’s often pushback from storeowners. “Bodegas have to buy these products in bulk, and they’re not always able to sell them as quickly as a supermarket might. A lot of this stems from the fact that there is no food distribution system that is not profit-based.”

It’s largely about coming together as a community to work towards a common goal, she said.

“It would benefit bodegas if we had a food distribution system that allowed them to sell these fresh fruits and vegetables based on community good versus profit,” Gomes said, pointing to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Vital Brooklyn Initiative, currently in the feasibility stages of creating a Central Brooklyn food hub.

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Another important factor in a community’s health, Gomes added, is its access to things like food coops and farmer’s markets — the latter also tracked by the Community Health Profiles. (Bed-Stuy is home to five of the city’s farmer’s markets and Sunset Park to two, according to the profiles. Brownsville, on the other hand, has eight — the most in the borough.)

“It’s really about community self-determination,” she said, tipping her hat to such groups as the Central Brooklyn Food Coop and and Brownsville’s Food Advisory Council. “I would say [to anyone who wants to learn more about their neighborhood’s access to healthy food], to join the efforts of the community groups that are out there.”

“Communities know what they need, and if you strengthen their access, you allow them to create their own solutions,” Gomes said. “We have to work to get community control of the distribution system.”

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