Corner Stores Wade Into Health

Paul Bass PhotoRobert Frizzelle stopped in to his neighborhood junk-food outlet Tuesday only to encounter baskets of oranges and bananas in the front window—and a childhood memory swelling up inside him.

Frizzelle (pictured above) has lived in the Dwight neighborhood for 39 years. On a round of errands Tuesday morning, he popped into Adam’s Deli-N-Food at the corner of Platt and Edgewood. He made his way past the Little Debbies and Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries to grab a bottle of Poland Spring from the cooler.

First he had to navigate past an assemblage of visitors present to inaugurate a new era at Adam’s and at two other mom-and-pop groceries in lower-income neighborhoods across town: The “Our Health Corner Store” era.

The three stores have agreed to stock more fresh fruits and veggies, baked snacks, no-sugar-added canned fruit, low-salt canned veggies and soups, low-sugar cereals, and low-fat or skim milk. They’ve agreed to promote the more healthful food prominently in the store, with help from the New Haven Healthy Corner Store Initiative, led by Yale’s Community Alliance for Research and Engagement (CARE) and the city’s health department.  (The other two stores participating are Fair Haven’s Clinton Food Center and the Hill’s Congress Market.) The initiative follows a study of neighborhood groceries.

The idea is to combat diabetes, obesity and other health problems faced by often carless city shoppers who rely on the high-fat junk food at their neighborhoods’ mom-and-pops, which, like Adam’s, are often right by schools. Adam’s is across the street from Augusta Lewis Troup School.

So at Adam’s, Nature Valley Oats ‘N’ Honey bars, Baked Lay’s Potato Chips, and relatively lower-sugar cereals were on more prominent display ...

... than the Cocoa Pebbles.

Frizzelle has shopped at the store in its various incarnations since his childhood. Back then the original Edge of the Woods natural foods store occupied the space, filling it with rows of bulk grains and organic produce, freshly-ground peanut butter, and tubs of tofu and tahini. While the new Adam’s lacks those features, Frizzelle welcomed the healthful upgrade and fondly recalled the Edge days. “I practically live here,” he said. “They’re good people.”

He was referring in part to owner Arshad Chaudhry (at right in photo above), 53, who moved here from Pakistan and opened Adam’s five years ago. He cut the ribbon on his new healthier offerings Tuesday morning with West River Alderman Yusuf Shah, who promised to join the store in becoming “more health-conscious.” Owner Chaudhry said he signed up with the new plan in the belief it’ll help him sell more food. “I’m pretty sure they will buy [the more healthful alternatives]. Everybody wants to stay healthy, right?”

Troup fourth-grader Taijhani Barrett (pictured) wasn’t sure at first. He and classmate Joesphine Portillo came by the ribbon-cutting to hand in pledge cards from students promising to shop with health in mind. Upon entering he was handed one of the pineapple-apple-grape fruit kabobs featured at the event.

Taijhaini ended up eating the kabob—and taking a second one of his own volition.

Andrea Anthony’s 2-year-old daughter Salej had a fruit kabob, too, while mom purchased two bottles of Thirsty Squirts.

Another shopper, Keyon Nelson, who’s 30, picked up a loosie and passed on the more healthful fare. He praised the store’s change, though. “I haven’t seen it like this before. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

The health department’s Maria Damiani took a sugary soft drink from a a shelf in the middle of the store—not to buy it, but to make a point. “This is what we want to get rid of,” she said. “The blue juice.”

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posted by: Rachel Heerema on May 17, 2011  2:46pm

Way to go New Haven! Thanks to these corner store owners for participating & helping our neighborhoods get healthy.  What an inspiring idea.

posted by: anon on May 17, 2011  2:53pm

The “blue juice” is cheaper than water.  Why would anyone buy anything else?

posted by: yum on May 17, 2011  3:00pm

Great idea!  this is awesome. Great job everyone who made this happen.

posted by: choice? on May 17, 2011  3:07pm

anon- am i missing your sarcasm? you’re not serious, right?

posted by: Stephen Harris on May 17, 2011  3:37pm

The schools need to build on this effort by teaching quality nutrition and serving it at lunch as well.

As a nitpick all cereals and chips (and baked just means the sugar is absorbed even faster) are loaded with sugar and are very poor nutritionally. Same goes for that dreadful skim milk.

But it’s a start. And in the not-to-distant-future the corner store will be a neighborhood bedrock once more.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 17, 2011  4:38pm

If he was true to heart he would get rid of all the junk-food.

posted by: John on May 17, 2011  5:29pm

Great thought.  Let’s do a follow up in 90 days and see the fruit at that point . ...

posted by: lol on May 17, 2011  5:56pm

Another shopper, Keyon Nelson, who’s 30, picked up a loosie and passed on the more healthful fare. He praised the store’s change, though. “I haven’t seen it like this before. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Correct me if i’m wrong, isn’t selling loose cigarettes illegal?  i know many places in the city do sell loose cigarettes, but i always thought it was illegal to sell them individually, funny that it happened at the corner store while this huge event was going on, and the purchase was reported in this article.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on May 17, 2011  6:41pm

Providing healthy food options is a two step process. The first step is making produce available in small neighborhood stores. The second step is changing where that produce comes from and how it is grown. The first step can be done at a local level, the second step really requires the federal government. Until produce is grown locally and without chemical herbicides and pesticides at a self-regulated scale on manageable-sized farms, even fruit and vegetables aren’t as healthy as they should be. Same applies for meat - they should be raised as livestock on farms, not grown and manufactured into meat in industrial facilities.
anon is correct that the blue drink is cheaper than most other drinks, so low-income (and even middle class) families tend to buy them over healthier alternatives. That drink is so cheap because of enormous corn subsidies provided by the federal government that make high fructose corn syrup (the key ingredient in most junk food) so cheap to produce. Corn subsidies are also instrumental in producing cheap meat that is extraordinarily unhealthy for us. Cows evolved to eat grass, but in order to mass produce meat, cows must be kept in cramped conditions where grass cannot grow, so they are fed a corn-based feed, which is the cause behind e coli development in cow’s stomachs.
If we redirected the industrial scale farming subsidies and incentives, which are left over from the New Deal, to instead subsidize and incentivize local farming, the food we eat would be much healthier. Unfortunately, locally produced food is usually a bit more expensive, but we would save enormously on medical bills over time. The net benefits of switching to locally produced food to health outweighs the slightly higher price tags for goods.

posted by: Lifer on May 17, 2011  8:31pm

Blue juice is a decent margarita mixer in a pinch.

posted by: Joel on May 18, 2011  5:45am

This is an amazing effort. Thanks for taking it on, CARE! I especially appreciate that the folks behind this initiative are focusing on corner stores nearby New Haven public schools.

Now, let’s figure out how to bring healthy food to West Rock, likely the city’s most food deprived neighborhood ...

posted by: Stephen Harris on May 18, 2011  5:57am

I know the people on the committee that put this together and they’re all very wonderful. We had lots of discussion about what healthy eating was (I was outnumbered in that argument) and how best to structure the program. In the end the approach taken is the best to start off with.

Telling a store owner/tenant not to stock that which sells (assorted chips, sugar water in every color of the rainbow, and Little Debbie-like things) wouldn’t work. The store is in business to make money so it will sell what sells.

Getting the-foot-of-better-nutrition in the door is the best practical first step in the long road towards healthier eating (meaning as much local, fresh, in-season produce, whole milk dairy and meats as can be had). In time all of what Jonathan points out will be corrected.

posted by: anon on May 18, 2011  7:26am

As Jonathan points out, foods like blue juice and “little debbies” are, in fact, Federally-subsidized poisons that are literally killing tens of millions of Americans. 

Of course people are going to choose the bottled poison over bottled water when the poison is 1/4 the price per ounce.

But, because we give billions in taxpayer subsidies to the corn industry, oil industry, and medical-industrial complex, all industries which see greater profits the greater the number of obese people, it is unlikely that this will change.  Unhealthy foods will continue to get cheaper and cheaper.  Thanks to our backwards policies, over 90% of U.S. financial wealth is now in the hands of the top few percent, who A) benefit directly from rising corporate profits and B) could care less about the tens of millions of Americans sentenced to an early death from obesity because it doesn’t affect them. 

The only way to promote health is through sustainable social change that promotes greater equality of opportunities for all (in particular, ending the huge tax subsidies for our mega oil-agri-pharma-medical corporations and the wealthy who own them, and using those billions of dollars to improve access to jobs, quality housing and education).

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on May 18, 2011  7:51am

The idea that baked snacks are any healthier than fatty or fried snacks is highly debatable.  The whole demonization of fat in the last few decades, and the food industry’s response in the form of low-fat but high-carbohydrate substitutes, probably bears a good deal of the blame for the obesity/diabetes epidemic.

posted by: MRM on May 18, 2011  8:19am

Agreed Gretchen and Stephen.  When I saw the two pictures of the boxed cereals above, I didn’t see a whole lot of difference between them.  That is, the lower ‘junk-food’ cereals certainly have more sugar added, but both are ultimately compressed pieces of high-carb, nutritionally-devoid sugar.  Same deal with the fruit - seems healthy, but having a bowl of Wheaties with skim milk, a tall glass of orange juice, and a banana for breakfast is a great way to start your day with lots of sugar, and little of the nutrition that these modern ‘health-food’ advocates act like they are gifting these neighborhoods with.

posted by: Pedro Soto on May 18, 2011  10:22am

This is definitely a great start. Small changes like this can help turn corner stores into places where some actual healthy staples can be purchased, hopefully at a reasonable price.

While they are certainly higher end, look at the world of difference of the East Rock neighborhood having three(!) food markets mere blocks from each other, to say nothing of the 2 coffee shops and (for now) a pharmacy.

Corner markets can definitely help bring about positive change, rather than just being a stop for cheap eats, soda and cigarettes.

A lot of the challenges is in distribution for healthy foods. I wonder if there is a larger distributor network that the health department/Yale CARE, (maybe with CitySeed’s help?) could help access.

If New Haven’s corner markets could purchase healthy staples at the same prices as supermarket chains, there would certainly be a better business case for them.