Panel says lack of grocer affects public health

The March closing of the city’s only supermarket, the Shaw’s on Whalley Avenue, has hurt city residents’ health, panelists told students in William L. Harkness Hall on Monday.

City residents have reduced access to nutritious foods now that the city lacks a nearby grocery store, four local food policy experts said at the panel discussion, which was hosted by the Yale Sustainable Food Project.

Since Shaw’s closed, many Yale students and city residents have had to do their food shopping at local convenience stores or more expensive food outlets like Gourmet Heaven. When panelist Peter Dodge, owner of the Whalley Avenue natural foods store Edge of the Woods, asked how many of the audience members used to shop at Shaw’s, almost everybody raised their hand.

The suburbs are more attractive to large supermarket chains than cities because suburban real estate is much cheaper, said panelist Bruce Becker ARC ’85 SOM ’85, president of 360 State developer Becker + Becker. In addition, it is easier for supermarkets to get the space necessary for parking lots and tractor-trailer deliveries in the suburbs, he said.

Becker said the Elm City Market, a food co-op he expects to open at 360 State next spring, will offer subsidized co-op memberships and payment plans to attract lower-income customers.

About 30 Yale students and community members attended the “Feeding New Haven” discussion and panelists also included Erin Wirpsa Eisenberg, executive director of the New Haven-based non-profit Cityseed, which promotes sustainable agriculture and community and economic development.

“It’s not enough just to be a good food consumer,” said panelist Mark Winne, former member of the Hartford Food Policy Council. “You need to be good food citizens.”.

Even with a car, getting to the grocery store takes a certain amount of time and effort, said Zan Romanoff ’09, and audience members and panelists said the only stores comparable to Shaw’s are in Fair Haven and Hamden.

Brian Tang ’12, who attended the panel, said he has been active in the search for a store to replace Shaw’s and that he is optimistic that a new tenant will be secured soon.

The panelists said local policy plays an important part in determining food access, as do federal subsidies for processed foods. Grocers have a larger incentive to sell processed soy products than fresh produce, they said. All the panelists said cities have a responsibility to provide a place for residents to buy healthy food.

Across the country, food deserts — residential areas far from any grocery store — are appearing in urban neighborhoods that chain supermarkets have deserted because they were not profitable enough, the panelists said.

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