In Edmonton, Alberta, Canada we have an organization, Fresh Routes, that runs a mobile grocery store. One of the main goals is to increase access to fresh, healthy foods in low income neighbourhoods. This is necessary because these neighbourhoods often have reduced access to major grocery stores. The residents rely on public transit and active transport like walking to access their food and this impacts what types of food they can access.
During the pandemic I have started ordering a weekly food box where I get three high quality fresh meal kits delivered to my door. I have also adopted online grocery ordering so that I drive to the store once a week and appreciate when a staff person brings out my groceries and helps me load them into the car. I recognize the privilege that allows me to do these actions and minimize my risks of exposure to Covid-19.
The actions I have taken aren’t uncommon in medium to high income communities: the ones with residents who can afford to buy a week’s worth of groceries at a time. As a result, according to research in Columbus, Ohio grocery stores in affluent areas saw decreases in the number of people in store, while people living in low income areas ended up visiting small stores with less selection and dollar stores frequently. These stores likely resulted in the purchase of low quality, processed foods more often.
I had the privilege of being annoyed when I had to drive to another store to get an item that was sold out somewhere because of the hoarding at the start of the pandemic. But for many people living in a food desert during the pandemic has had the potential to have much higher health costs than “just” having to risk Covid-19 infections to get groceries. Inequity is a systemic problem that has far reaching implications.
I hope that programs like Fresh Routes can continue but more importantly, we need to push towards a time when they are not the only option for fresh food for some of our friends, relatives, colleagues, and strangers.