Philadelphia has the highest obesity rate and poorest population of America’s big cities. It also has an ambitious plan — launched out of 632 corner stores — to put healthy food on every table.
The $900,000 investment in better health depends on apples and oranges, chips and candy, $1,200 fridges and green plastic baskets. The results could steer the course of American food policy.
Philadelphia is trying to turn corner stores into greengrocers. For a small shop, it’s a risky business proposition. Vegetables have a limited shelf life, so a store owner must know how much will sell quickly — or watch profits rot away. He also lacks the buying power of large supermarkets and is often unable to meet the minimum orders required by the cheaper wholesalers that grocery stores use.
With shelf space at a premium, shop owners must pick and choose the products they think will sell best. Chips and candy and soda are a sure bet. Eggplant? It’s hard to know.
Access to healthy foods has been a cornerstone of the Obama administration’s food policy, dedicating hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds to projects like this one. The goal is to eradicate food deserts — low-income areas that lack access to nutritious foods — by 2017.
“More parents will have a fresh food retailer right in their community — a place that sells healthy food, at reasonable prices, so they can feed their families the way they want,” first lady Michelle Obama said when she launched the White House’s $400 million Healthy Food Financing Initiative.