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Wednesday, November 8, 2011
Lining every block | South LA has one of the poorest food resource environments in Los Angeles County. There are nearly 1,000 fast-food restaurants in the 30 or so square miles of South Los Angleles, according to the LA city council. A McDonald's location draws attention and traffic at Slauson and Central Avenues (above). Photo by Eric Burse.

Shocking stats | About 30 percent of South LA residents are obsese, according to the LA city council. That is double the obsesity rate of other parts of the county. Family Farm's Market (above) is one of few grocers in South LA that accepts food stamps and carries fresh produce. Photo by Eric Burse.

Fast-food temptation | The LA city council passed one of the nation's most radical food policies earlier this year effectively banning any new fast-food restaurants from opening in South LA. Church's Chicken (above) sits right next to a Fresh & Easy market on Adams Blvd. Photo by Eric Burse.

Supporting neighborhoods | A trip along Central Ave. or its connecting streets illustrates how hard it is to change the eating habits of South LA residents. Official are set to restore South LA sites to visible sign-free skylines. Photo by Eric Burse.

Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market at Central Ave. and Adams Blvd. Photo by Eric Burse.

Fresh & Easy Markets make investment in South Los Angeles
Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry, 9th District: "Fresh & Easy is bringing quality fruits, vegetables, meat, and wholesome foods to an area in great need of grocery outlets and food options. I am excited to see this new urban model here inSouth Los Angeles.  I am proud that we can count them as a new investor in our neighborhood."

Fresh & Easy currently operates 145 stores in California, Arizona and Nevada, including 88 stores in Southern California. In addition to fresh, high-quality prepared meals and produce, Fresh & Easy offers everyone's favorite national brand products and household items, all at unbelievably low prices.  The company is opening three additional today in Whittier, Lakeside andReedley.

"As part of Fresh & Easy's commitment to be a good neighbor, the company awarded L.A. Works, an organization working to engage volunteers in L.A., with a $1,000 donation for their commitment to the neighborhood.  Employees from Fresh & Easy also joined City Year at 28th Street Elementary after the store opening to paint a mural at a neighborhood school promoting healthier eating for the students."

By Eric Burse

LOS ANGELES -- Growing up in South Los Angeles was normal according to USC student La Mikia Castillo. She grew up with her mother and sister in several different neighborhoods in South Los Angeles during her childhood. “It wasn’t until I left South Los Angeles, went to college and started to live in other neighborhoods that I recognized that the places where I grew up didn’t have access to fresh foods like others did in other parts of the city,” said Castillo. She is now a graduate student at the USC School of Public Policy studying the food desert issue in her hometown.

These areas anywhere are known as ‘food deserts’. Healthful foods such as fruit and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and dairy, are hardly able to be found in these neighborhoods. Full-service grocery stores are scarce. However, fast-food restaurants are easily accessible and can be found on almost any block.

‘Food desert’ is a term that describes geographic areas where mainstream grocery stores are either totally absent or inaccessible to low-income shoppers. South Los Angeles is one of the foremost examples of this issue in the nation. This area has one of the poorest food resources in the county. South Los Angeles is home to over 1.3 million people, the area’s 60 full-service grocery store serve an average of 22,156 residents, according to Community Health Councils. In contrast, West Los Angeles has 651,000 residents and 57 stores, which each serve only 11,150 residents, according to Community Health Councils.

Aside from the small number of grocery stores in South Los Angeles, the quality of food in the stores they do have is lower than other areas. Only 27.6 percent of adults in South Los Angeles rate the quality of the fresh fruits and vegetables where they shop as high, compared to 51.6 percent in West Los Angeles and 36 in the county overall, according to Community Health Councils.

“In the past 10 years we have come a long way, but there is still much to do to eliminate food access disparities for LA’s poorest citizens,” said Dr. Lavonna Blair Lewis, USC School of Public Policy professor.

“Efforts are being made on a variety of different fronts to improve this issue,” said Dr. Lewis. The Los Angeles city council passed a fast-food moratorium for the South Los Angeles area, effectively banning news fast food restaurants from forming. This ban has been considered one of the most radical moves by any city to combat this rising obesity and heath issue.

“If people don’t have better choices or don’t have the time or knowledge or curiosity, they are going to take what’s there,” said Councilwoman Jan Perry.

Other efforts sparked by the city and non-profit organizations are starting to transform popular liquor stores in South Los Angeles to markets. Corner and convenience stores that ideally replace grocers have become abundant throughout South Los Angeles. These markets aim to have fresh food visible for citizens who may not have a full-service grocery store within several miles. 

Efforts in these areas have been ongoing for years, but there are still several barriers that stand in the way of completely eliminating the problem. Identifying acceptable sites for stores then having to deal with costly infrastructure and a lengthy development approval process discourages new grocers from moving into the area. Also, residents of South Los Angeles have a presumed lack of disposable income and the neighborhoods have bad perception in general.

There are some stores that are partnering with city leaders to prove these perceptions wrong. Fresh & East neighborhood market opened up its first South Los Angeles location one year ago. The store is a part of a broader redevelopment program to revitalize the central corridor. “We continue to open stores in all types of neighborhoods because we fundamentally believe that everyone, regardless of where they live, deserves access to quality, fresh food at affordable prices,” said a Fresh & Easy spokesperson.

While the contribution and inclusion of Fresh & Easy in South LA is a great landmark, leaders on this issue say there are a long way to go and several other people that need to get involved. “Yes, it is great to get more grocery stores in the area, but we need to also educate and focus the community members on what healthy eating it, how to make better decisions and more,” said Castillo.

“This is an issue that’s not going to be fixed in five or ten years,” said Castillo.

Out with the old | Numerous liquor stores are being transformed into fresh markets since land is scare in South Los Angeles. Owners are being compensated and are working with city officials. Photo by Eric Burse.


Downtown LA | Ralph's downtown location offers fresh produce and freshly prepared lunch/dinner foods as well. Photo by: Eric Burse.
South Los Angeles | Family Farm's Market is located in South Los Angeles on Central Ave. and accepts food stamps for its fresh produce. Photo by Eric Burse.

South/West LA | Fresh & Easy is a new option for many residents in both South and West Los Angeles. They offer afforadable, fresh and pre-made items. Photo by Eric Burse.