Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Groups 5-8: Food Availability

As the project starts coming to an end, the groups have been busy making their final trips and compiling their data. Last Friday two members of group 7, Stephanie Fleurantin and Luwam Berhane, travelled to Newark, where they visited a Pathmark Supermarket and a small Health Food Store. Like the other groups, they used the Thrifty Food Plan Survey to look at the variety and prices of the food.
Stephanie Fleurantin and Luwan Berhane checking for items on the Thrify Food Plan in the Health Food Store

We were very well received at the Health Food Store - the owner even provided us with literature about the various herbs she sells, as well as with a free sample of a “wheatgrass shot.” While the researchers filled out their survey I got the chance to ask her about her store and the role it plays in the community. Interestingly, she told me that her store is very popular in the bustling neighborhood it is located in, and that the residents of Newark have a strong interest in health food, vegetarian diets and herbal remedies. Furthermore, she explained that many churches pool their money together to ensure that those affiliated with them can have access to health food. For this reason, many people with financial problems are able to purchase the food and herbal supplements that she sells.

The juice bar in the Health Food Store

Nevertheless, the researchers were unsure as to what extent this kind of store has an impact on food availability in Trenton. They were also concerned that it would be difficult to compare their findings in the Health Food Store with those in a larger supermarket, such as the Pathmark that they visited, because the kinds of food that the two sell are radically different. Furthermore, although the store offered a healthy variety of food, a lot of the food that is on the Thrifty Food Plan Survey was not present (especially meat). Therefore, although it would be possible to have a healthy diet shopping at the Health Food Store, it faire rather poorly on the survey. This brings into question the reliability of the Thrifty Food Plan in measuring food availability.

The Pathmark that was visited had a much bigger selection of food, and the researchers found most of the food that is on the Thrifty Food Plan survey. Overall the prices were much lower than at the Health Food Store. However, the researchers did not feel that the two stores can be compared and felt that visiting average corner stores would have been more useful. They may in fact go back to Newark on their own over winter break in order to conduct further research.

The groups that travelled to New Brunswick and to Trenton have been busy compiling their data, and there have been no updates from the Camden group. Soon the groups will be wrapping up their work, and we’ll be able to see how their findings compare to each other. Interestingly, all the groups have voiced the same concern that the stores they visited will not give them enough data to accurately assess the problem of food availability in their respective cities.