Yale students may no longer be hungry for a grocery store with the recent openings of Stop & Shop and Elm City Market, but concerns about the availability of healthy food options in New Haven persist.
Following the closure of the Shaw’s supermarket on Whalley Avenue in March 2010, city officials and community leaders deemed New Haven a “food desert” — a term used by the United States Department of Agriculture to describe low-income neighborhoods with limited access to affordable and healthy food. By the fall of 2011, two supermarkets had established themselves in the Elm City, but concerns remain about some New Haven neighborhoods that still lack adequate access to groceries with healthy foods.
While the opening of Stop & Shop at the former Shaw’s location and Elm City Market in the 360 State Street building has boosted the ability of Yale students and downtown residents to shop for groceries, four census-defined areas in the city are still classified as “food deserts” according to the USDA: Quinnipiac , West Rock, Annex and East Shore.
People who live in “food deserts” often end up eating more fast food and junk food than those who have access to grocery stores, city health director Mario Garcia SPH ’02 said. He said that the two new stores “are only part of the solution” for the city.
In addition to having access to transportation, residents must also have sufficient funds and shopping and cooking skills in order to benefit from a grocery store, Garcia said.
Stop & Shop, Garcia said, is providing community education programs to promote the discussion of nutrition. On Tuesday, the store held a “Child Obesity Forum” with serval panelists, including deputy director of Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy Marlene Schwartz.
Yale’s School of Public Health has also been working to promote the accessibility and quality of food choices in the city. In collaboration with the New Haven Health Department, the School of Public Health launched the Corner Grocery Store Initiative in May 2011. The program aims to provide better food options in low-income neighborhoods through partnerships with small grocery stores. Four stores currently participate in the initiative.
“The opening of the two grocery stores is a huge improvement, but it doesn’t eliminate entirely the problems community members are facing,” said Naa Sackey, coordinator for the Corner Grocery Store Initiative. “Accessibility is still a strong barrier for residents.”
For over a year, Yalies had little access to fresh groceries after Shaw’s closed and before the opening of Stop & Shop in April and the Elm City Market in November of last year.
“It was a big inconvenience,” Ben Albright ’11 MED ’15 said of the Shaw’s closure. As an undergraduate, Albright lived off campus without a meal plan for his junior and senior year. “If I hadn’t had a car [the closure] would have been a major problem,” he added.
Albright said he would often drive to the Walmart off Interstate 91 in New Haven, over three miles away, for his groceries. For his friends who did not have access to a vehicle, the closure of Shaw’s was a “major problem.” He said they would either “make do” at small stores nearby like Gourmet Heaven or take the Yale College Council-sponsored shuttle bus to the Stop & Shop in Hamden.
Albright echoed 10 other students interviewed when he said he was happy that Stop & Shop opened in the old Shaw’s location in April 2011. Like nine of the 10 students, Albright has yet to purchase groceries from Elm City Market.
Stop & Shop spokeswoman Amy Murphy said the supermarket is doing well financially and that she does not believe the Nov. 3 opening of Elm City Market downtown has had an impact on the store’s business.
Amy Christensen-Regni, marketing director for Elm City Market, said the co-op store is supported by a membership of over 1,200 members and is “doing great.” She added that as a store intended for all city residents, the co-op is working to break the misconception that shopping at the market is a “members-only experience.”
Over 23 million Americans live in food deserts, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.