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    Thursday, September 28, 2023

    The fight against food apartheid

    Tomatoes, peppers, spinach and strawberries sprout in some unlikely spots throughout densely populated New London neighborhoods. Thanks to the efforts of FRESH New London, a food justice organization located in the city, free fresh produce is available to local residents at seven public snack gardens.

    This project takes the practice of urban community gardening a step further. These public gardens offer nutrient-dense fresh produce to some of the city’s poorest residents, a group that includes new immigrants. We applaud FRESH New London’s efforts.

    Americans have become familiar with the phrase “food deserts” - urban neighborhoods abandoned by grocery store chains in favor of suburban locations where parking and profits margins are more plentiful. In largely low-income urban neighborhoods, however, where many residents lack private transportation, fast food and junk food sold at convenience stores and bodegas are the only easily accessible food options.

    Those at FRESH New London say, however, that the situation is even worse than what the phrase “food desert” implies. They instead use the term “food apartheid” to describe the food reality that many urban residents face.

    “For many low-income folks without a car in New London, it means a 1- to 3-mile walk to a grocery store and a produce section,” Julie Garay, FRESH New London senior program manager told Day reporter John Penney recently. “We hear the term ‘food desert,’ but that implies it’s a natural thing that there are areas where people can’t access healthy food and it’s something we can’t fix.”

    Even if these residents find a ride to a supermarket, or make the long walk, they also find that the price of more nutritious items such as fresh produce exceeds the cost of highly processed, less healthy food. One Harvard School of Public Health study determined that the cost of eating healthy is $1.50 a day per person higher than the price of less healthy diets.

    For families on tight budgets that include several children, this higher cost is significant, especially at a time when all consumers are struggling with spiking food prices.

    Fixing the problem of food apartheid - a term that means systemic segregation - is exactly what FRESH New London has set out to accomplish. The organization has done a splendid job of effectively breaking down access barriers to healthy food.

    In addition to establishing, planting and tending to the snack beds, the organization also has worked with neighbors living near the gardens to determine exactly what types of produce they are most interested in. Vegetables and herbs used in Southern, Caribbean and Latin American cooking - tomatillos, black-eyed peas and West Indian pumpkins, for example - now grow in some of the snack beds. Brightly colored signs in both English and Spanish invite neighbors to harvest the bounty.

    We commend the ambitious efforts of FRESH New London as it fights food apartheid one nutritious snack-filled garden at a time.

    The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Timothy Dwyer, Executive Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, retired executive editor Tim Cotter and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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