Wandering the District 4 Food Desert

Wandering the District 4 Food Desert

Photo by Sam Hodgson

Diane Moss runs Project New Village, a community nonprofit focused on local, healthy food. The Food 4 Less in Lincoln Park is one of District 4's few supermarkets.

 

Magnolias. Annie Belle’s. Huffman’s Bar-B-Q.

These locally owned, full-service restaurants all closed in San Diego’s Fourth Council District in recent years.

Popeyes. Jack in the Box. McDonald’s.

These national, fast-food restaurants all remain. They’re within steps of each other at Euclid Avenue and Federal Boulevard, one of the area’s main commercial corridors.

Just a block from this trio, Diane Moss sat in her office and explained the proliferation of quick, cheap, junk food restaurants in the district.

“That’s what’s here,” Moss said. “That’s what’s easy. That’s what people know.”

Moss runs Project New Village, a community nonprofit focused on local, healthy food.

She’s well aware the neighborhood has trouble sustaining the kinds of restaurants she’d like to promote.

“But the why?” she asked, throwing up her hands.

She paused for a while before answering.

“I cook most of my own food, so I don’t know,” she said.

Residents in District 4, which encompasses the city’s southeastern neighborhoods, say they want better places to eat and shop in their community. Quality food isn’t only a restaurant problem.

Not one food store in the district’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, which has about 5,800 residents, met state standards for healthy, affordable food in a recent survey Moss’ organization helped conduct. Lincoln Park is home to a Food 4 Less, one of the district’s few supermarkets.

Whatever the reason for the lack of quality restaurants and grocery stores in the community, it’s not solely financial.

The district’s median household income is $57,996, which ranks sixth among the city’s nine council districts, according to statistics from the San Diego Association of Governments. That figure is boosted by the relatively better-off Skyline and Paradise Hills neighborhoods. (There’s a Ralphs supermarket in Paradise Hills.) But even taking into account less affluent neighborhoods, such as Lincoln Park, a recent study found that less than half the money residents paid for groceries, restaurants, clothing and other retail items was spent within district boundaries.

The district, which has a reputation as poor and crime-ridden, still has a stigma that plays a role in its lack of quality food choices, Moss said. The stigma holds even for residents, she said.

“People want to go somewhere else rather than somewhere in your backyard,” Moss said.

She has taken her push for better food to the community’s backyard. Moss runs a weekly farmer’s market in Chollas View.

Her market is struggling. The end of winter is the worst time of the year. Now only about 50 people each week are coming through to buy from the market’s 10 or so vendors, she said. The key to improving business, Moss said, is greater effort and education about healthy options within the community, and that takes time.

Meanwhile, Moss continues to grow her own vegetables. The best thing that ever came from her garden, she said, was eggplant.

“I had stopped watering it and then I pulled up all these weeds and things,” Moss said. “Here were all these big, purple eggplant. It was easy.”

Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663.

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Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon is senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He leads VOSD’s investigations and writes about how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next? Please contact him directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663.

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28 comments
Joshua Brant
Joshua Brant subscriber

Second, I looked though the link you provided for the standard that is used to determine whether or not a supermarket/grocery store offers "healthy, affordable food choices." There was no specific criteria or standards that I could find. There was a footnote stating "priority indicators are being developed." Does that mean they are used subjective judgment were going to work on specific criteria later?

JBZ
JBZ

Second, I looked though the link you provided for the standard that is used to determine whether or not a supermarket/grocery store offers "healthy, affordable food choices." There was no specific criteria or standards that I could find. There was a footnote stating "priority indicators are being developed." Does that mean they are used subjective judgment were going to work on specific criteria later?

Irene Grumman
Irene Grumman subscribermember

Support the farmers' market!

morphit
morphit

Support the farmers' market!

Liam Dillon
Liam Dillon memberadministrator

Hi Joshua- I double-checked with Diane Moss Thursday evening. The map is wrong. The Food 4 Less is the grocery store that's referenced in the survey. Please see my reply to Jennifer below for the a link to more info on the healthy food standards that I referenced. Thanks for all your questions.

dillonliam
dillonliam

Hi Joshua- I double-checked with Diane Moss Thursday evening. The map is wrong. The Food 4 Less is the grocery store that's referenced in the survey. Please see my reply to Jennifer below for the a link to more info on the healthy food standards that I referenced. Thanks for all your questions.

joshuajay619
joshuajay619

Looks like I am mistaken about the report referring to Foodland IGA which is not in the mapped area of the report either. Now I am wondering which grocery store the report was referring to? The tiny "Valencia Park Market" appears to be within their study area? It's such a small study area: one neighborhood. Almost immediately to the north of their study area is the Food4Less, and immediately south of their study area is Wrigley's Supermarket. Plus Gonzales Northgate (Formerly Albertson's) a stones throw to the west.

joshuajay619
joshuajay619

I still think "recent" is not an accurate way to describe the study that is over half a decade old (almost 7 years now), and which was taken in an entirely different economic climate. It would be more accurate to say the "most recent." It's not a new study, but it's the newest study you could find.

Liam Dillon
Liam Dillon memberadministrator

But more importantly again, this is the best, most recent information on this issue that exists.

dillonliam
dillonliam

But more importantly again, this is the best, most recent information on this issue that exists.

joshuajay619
joshuajay619

"a recent study found that less than half the money residents paid for groceries, restaurants, clothing and other retail items was spent within district boundaries" I don't know if I would consider this study to be recent since it was from nearly 7 years ago, and before "The Great Recession" which one would assume changed spending patterns. Also, no mention of the fact that this study on district 4 was before redistricting. What say you Liam?

joshuajay619
joshuajay619

Liam, I opened the link to the report on Lincoln Park, and according to the map on that report Food4Less is not in Lincoln Park, which contradicts what you wrote in the article. Therefor, the one grocery store the report refers to must be the Foodland IGA. I am curious as to the criteria used to determine that Foodland IGA is not an affordable healthy option?

Jennifer Reiswig
Jennifer Reiswig subscribermember

I don't understand how Food4Less doesn't count as offering "healthy, affordable food." What are these standards anyway? I've shopped at Food4Less many times - it's definitely got healthy and affordable food, and there is a bus stop right there served by four different bus lines, with the trolley just a block away. It's open til midnight, which makes it pretty convenient for folks with different kinds of work schedules. It doesn't probably sell a lot of local, organic stuff, but I don't know of any store ANYWHERE in San Diego that sells locally grown organic products at low prices. With the scarcity of farm land in San Diego, local and organic = premium prices.

bmljenny
bmljenny

I don't understand how Food4Less doesn't count as offering "healthy, affordable food." What are these standards anyway? I've shopped at Food4Less many times - it's definitely got healthy and affordable food, and there is a bus stop right there served by four different bus lines, with the trolley just a block away. It's open til midnight, which makes it pretty convenient for folks with different kinds of work schedules. It doesn't probably sell a lot of local, organic stuff, but I don't know of any store ANYWHERE in San Diego that sells locally grown organic products at low prices. With the scarcity of farm land in San Diego, local and organic = premium prices.

Liam Dillon
Liam Dillon memberadministrator

Hi Joshua- This story notes that Diane Moss' group helped evaluate the food options in Lincoln Park, which includes the Food 4 Less. None met state standards for healthy, affordable food. Certainly, however, the Food 4 Less is better than no grocery store.

dillonliam
dillonliam

Hi Joshua- This story notes that Diane Moss' group helped evaluate the food options in Lincoln Park, which includes the Food 4 Less. None met state standards for healthy, affordable food. Certainly, however, the Food 4 Less is better than no grocery store.

Liam Dillon
Liam Dillon memberadministrator

Hi Bob- The Jacobs Center folks are talking to Walmart about building on one of their parcels. Subject of a future post in this series.

dillonliam
dillonliam

Hi Bob- The Jacobs Center folks are talking to Walmart about building on one of their parcels. Subject of a future post in this series.

joshuajay619
joshuajay619

Why are we over looking Food4Less and Foodland IGA? The Foodland IGA has good prices on many produce items. Here's an tip: go there for avocados. I have never seen avacados at Albertsons, Ralphs, or Vons that were cheaper or better quality than the avocados at Foodland. IGA has over 5,000 locations in the US and the local Foodland IGA's are owned by the same people that own the Jonathan's and Harvest Ranch stores, and yet it sounds like they are totally over-looked.

Bob Spaulding
Bob Spaulding subscribermember

There exists one (among many) solution to getting a cheap, abundant, and wide variety of fruit and vegetables to the families in her neighborhood: WalMart. Yes, the very organization despised by the rich liberals who have successfully kept it out most inner city neighborhoods.

EconProf
EconProf

There exists one (among many) solution to getting a cheap, abundant, and wide variety of fruit and vegetables to the families in her neighborhood: WalMart. Yes, the very organization despised by the rich liberals who have successfully kept it out most inner city neighborhoods.

joshuajay619
joshuajay619

I wouldn't call Huffman's a full service restaurant. You ordered at the register. I went there not so long ago and the food was terrible, plus the dining room was run down and dirty. But it was a local institution, and the history in there was pretty cool. It's a shame. VOSD may have pointed to part of the reason in an article you guys did in 2011. The last census revealed that for the first time in a long time San Diego does not have a single neighborhood that is over 50% african american.

joshuajay619
joshuajay619

I still don't think there is a shortage of grocery stores. I listed 6 in the district not counting the Ralphs you mentioned, plus the target walmart and sams club in the eastern edge of the district and a there are a half dozen more grocery stores just outside of district boundaries.

Muriel
Muriel subscriber

@joshuajay619  I agree with you... the entire argument  of "food desert" makes no sense...