Ending the drought in Chicago’s food deserts

Created by: Leigh Burmesch

For Brienne Moore, getting to the grocery story is always a struggle.  “I can only purchase as much food as I can carry, and that is not much,” she said.  The distance, which can be equated to two CTA El stops or a 20-minute walk, is a trip the 21-year-old junior makes sparingly.  “I should go to the store more often, but I don’t have a car, which makes shopping more difficult.  I usually choose to eat out instead.”

While for most Loyola University Chicago students, living on the north side of campus means living farther away from most grocery stores in Rogers Park, students still have it easier than some 600,000 Chicagoans who live in food deserts.

Credit: "Examining the Impact of Food Deserts on Public Health in Chicago" Report

What exactly qualifies as a food desert?  While a desert is a region absent of rainfall with restrictive quantities of vegetation, a food desert is essentially just that.  Of course, food deserts generally have an influx of fast food options.

According to Mari Gallagher of Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group, a food desert is, “a large geographic area that clusters that has no or distant mainstream grocery stores.”  Gallagher popularized the term with her 2006 publication entitled, “Examining the Impact of Food Deserts on Public Health in Chicago,” which analyzed the relationship between food access and community heath.

In a city where the McDonald’s golden arches can be spotted every couple of blocks, access to affordable and fresh meat as well as fruits and vegetables are harder to come by in Chicago’s west and south sides.  The lack of convenience to healthy food choices ultimately forces residents of these low-income areas to choose a dollar menu burger over homemade vegetable stir-fry.

Gallagher’s 2006 report found that Chicago’s predominantly African American neighborhoods are forced to travel the farthest distance to any type of grocery store, chain store or independent.  Residents of these neighborhoods must travel an average of .58 miles, in comparison with predominantly White and Latino neighborhoods, which both have an average distance of .39 miles of travel.

The study also found that in low-income neighborhoods, while the availability of grocery stores is low, access to fast food restaurants on the other hand is high.  This imbalance of food consequently leads to an increase in health risks.

Given that primarily African American neighborhoods have an increased reliance on fast food, residents in these areas face an increased risk to cardiovascular disease, cancer as well as diabetes.

According to the study, the risk of cardiovascular disease is one of the biggest health disparities between neighborhoods with grocery stores and those without. Gallagher’s study found that every 11 people out of 1,000 residing in a food desert die from cardiovascular disease, in contrast to six out of 1,000 people in neighborhoods with easier grocery store access.

In wake of the 2006 study, something needed to be done about the food imbalance.  The food desert crisis is not isolated to just Chicago, but a crisis across America.

In 2010, Michelle Obama started the “Let’s Move” campaign.  The campaign is geared to fight the growing issue of obesity in the United States.  Focusing on America’s youth, the campaign strives to provide parents and schools with the tools they need to raise healthy, active adults.

According to LetsMove.org, childhood obesity rates have tripled over the past 30 years.  In further support of Gallagher’s 2006 study, LetsMove.org reports that among African American and Hispanic populations, almost 40% of children are obese.

If we don’t change the food availability in underserved communities across America, this growing issue will only get worse for generations to come.

Taking Michelle Obama’s lead, Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, who will take office on May 16, announced this past February, his plan to make meat and produce more available throughout Chicago’s food deserts.

In an effort to bring fresh food to Chicago’s health food deprived neighborhoods, Emanuel plans to hold grocery store executives accountable.

At an event celebrating the site of a new farmer’s market on the Southwest Side of Chicago last February, Emanuel told the public that if elected, he would conduct a conference with grocery store executives.  At this conference, grocery stores interested in increasing their influence in the city would also be responsible for opening new locations in Chicago’s food deserts.

In his “my way or the highway” approach, Emanuel hopes to show grocery store executives that he means business.

Setting up shop in Chicago’s food desert neighborhoods proved to be good for business for Walgreens.

According to a press release for Emanuel’s mayoral campaign, last year, Chicago’s Walgreens stores sold fruits and vegetables at ten store locations in Chicago’s underserved communities.

With Walgreen’s providing a direct example of potential profitability, Emanuel hopes to convince grocery store chains planning on opening more stores in the city to not limit their expansion to solely wealthy areas.

Ultimately, what’s fresher than fruits and vegetables grown in your own backyard? Emmanuel plans to utilize the empty plots of land in much of Chicago’s west and south sides through the creation of community gardens.  The Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council, is one organization within the city trying to bring grocery stores and farmer’s markets into these areas.  The Council Food Policy Advisory Council also engages young people in the battle against obesity with its Chicago Youth Food Policy Council.

If Chicago wants to reverse this growing health crisis, the effort must start from within.  By reaching out to the city’s youth as well as encouraging grocery stores to open stores in the city’s underdeveloped areas, health within the city is likely to improve.  As Emanuel takes office in a little less than two weeks, Chicagoan’s are hopeful to see his plan carried out.

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Grocery Shopping: Ininitiation into adulthood?

I clearly remember my first taste of freedom began with the a la carte lunch line.  I now cringe at my imbalanced, 12-year-old diet: nachos, a giant chocolate chip cookie, with the occasional pink lemonade.  But who could stop me?  I had a choice.

I continued to make the same disproportionate eating choices as a freshmen in high school.  Not only was I eating the school’s mystery pizza and signature chocolate chip cookies but a $3.00 Snapple juice was now a daily purchase.  The Snapple fact caps became a popular lunch table conversation, and within the first few months of school the fact caps had already become repetitive.  This probably should have alarmed us, or at least slowed our rapid Snapple consumption.

Luckily, by the start of my sophomore year, I realized my body and my bank account would be saved if I stuck to the hot lunch line.  And so I did; most of the time.

The real test began in college. Up until then, a kid’s freedom of choice is exercised exclusively during the lunch hour.

Say goodbye to dinners cooked by mom or dad.

While The Onion takes a jab at the typical college student’s diet, students who must eat meal after meal at their school’s dinning hall are directly affected by the variety and quality of food.

At Loyola University Chicago, students are tied down to the cafeteria tray for just a year. After that they have the choice to start grocery shopping on their own.  The freedom to buy one’s own groceries gives student’s a glimpse into the adult world.

Joe Guszkowski, a Junior at Loyola University Chicago said he spends roughly $60-$80 a month on groceries.  A frequent shopper at Devon Market because of it’s convenient location and relatively low prices, Guszkowski appreciates the responsibility of buying his own food.  “I eat healthier now that I have to buy my own groceries,” he said.

The inability to use the cafeteria as a crutch also challenges students to think outside the box.  “You actually have to make something.  You need to think about what you are buying.  It [grocery shopping] forces you to make new things and work with what you have,” Guszkowski said.  A freedom that is somewhat restricted by the the confines of a cafeteria.

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The Next Baked Thing

In case you didn’t catch it, here is the ingredient list.  This recipe was originally spotted on Sprouted Kitchen’s blog.

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies with Cherries and Pecans

1 Cup Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
3/4 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt
1 1/4 Cups Old-Fashioned Rolled Oats
1 Cup Pecans, toasted and chopped
1 Cup Dried Cherries, chopped coarse
8 ounces Bittersweet Chocolate, chopped into small pieces OR chocolate chips
3/4 cup Unsalted Butter, softened but still cool
1 1/2 Cups Muscavado/Packed Dark Brown Sugar
1 Extra Large Egg
1 tsp Real Vanilla Extract

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“Spinach in a smoothie!?”

Adding any vegetable to a smoothie, a drink which is falsely reserved for fruit, is likely to leave mouths questioning its tastefulness.

Spinach, lettuce, and kale can all be used to top off a fruit smoothie.  Last summer my co-worker turned me on to green smoothies.  While I was doubtful at first, I reluctantly added a handful of baby spinach leaves to my smoothie, which already contained 2 bananas, 1 cup of mixed berries, and 2 cups of water.

The result? Phenomenal.

It was as close to a Naked Juice smoothie as I could get in my own kitchen— not to mention a heck of a lot cheaper in comparison. While I have always detested spinach — cooked or raw— the spinach flavor disappears with the fruit.

My go-to breakfast for the past eight months, I can almost guarantee I have been waking my roommates up each morning ever since.  Not only do I get my daily source of fruits and vegetables but a boost of energy as well.

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Irish for a day


Liu checks on the baking cupcakes.

St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday most famous for the mass amount of alcohol consumed by the Irish and those who enjoy being Irish for a day.  Grocery and liquor stores are stalked high with Guinness, a popular Irish dry stout beer and Bailey’s Irish Cream, an Irish blend of whiskey and cream.  However, this St. Patrick’s Day I was in search of just one can of Guinness and 3 to 4 tablespoons of Bailey’s.

Why? Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes.

Since I have yet to post a mouth-watering dessert I thought I would introduce this fluffy, chocolaty treat.  However, it must be said— this is no Hostess cupcake.  This recipe will cost more than a second graders weekly allowance, though the potential kill to the pocketbook is worth it.  Yet, if you are a struggling college student I would recommend divvying up the ingredient list among your friends, someone is likely to have a bottle of Bailey’s laying around.

While I had the honorable duty of frosting the cupcakes, my friend Maggie Liu was the real mastermind behind them.  Even though I enjoy the palatable results of baking, I admit I am not much of a baker. Thus, if you find this alchoholic dessert enticing, listen to Maggie elucidate this recipe here Cupcake Talk.

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Tuesday earthquake devastates New Zealand, at least 65 dead

Photo courtesy BBC News

A magnitude 6.3 earthquake hit the popular tourist destination of Christchurch, New Zealand on Tuesday.  The earthquake occurred at 12:51pm, killing 65 people.  The death toll is likely to increase significantly in the coming days with unconfirmed reports of 90 victims and estimates as large as 1,000, according to the Chicago Tribune

The area now suffers from the aftershock of the catastrophe, chaotic streets and damaged infrastructure challenge rescuers searching for survivors amongst the rubble. 

The area was still recovering from a magnitude 7.1 earthquake, which hit last September.  However, the September earthquake resulted in zero deaths, largely due to the time of occurence.  Ian Stuart , reporter for the New Zealand Press Association stated,

“The last earthquake in September didn’t kill anyone because people were home asleep when it struck.”

Tuesday’s earthquake, however, occurred during the lunch hour as people were out and about. 

According to the Chicago Tribune, the Mayor of Christchurch, Bob Parker said, “Make no mistake — this is going to be a very black day for this shaken city.”

Despite the devastation, Christchurch remains focused on recovery efforts.

The Christchurch hospital reopened late Tuesday night to tend to victims after it had shutdown earlier in the day.

Emergency aid and rescue workers have been pouring into the country to help with the recovery.  Additionally, New Zealand has received numerous offers from countries around the globe to lend a hand in the clean up.

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A chance to eat from the plates of Hollywood stars

Everything is up for grabs at Chicago’s famous Ambassador East Hotel and The Pump Room.  Plates, silverware, glasses, furniture, artwork—you name it.  Mundane kitchen items have turned into collector’s items as this landmark restaurant has now closed its 225-seat dining room.  After 70 years of catering to Hollywood hunks and starlets, its doors will remain open only for special occasions.

The Pump Room opened in 1938 and quickly became a frequent weekend dinner spot for Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, and Mick Jaggar, to name a few.  While the restaurant is no longer open for a nightly meal, the public still has the opportunity to fawn over dishware, maybe even a glass used by Frank Sinatra himself.

According to the Chicago Tribune, “There’s something here for everybody,” said Michael Kabealo, president of Hotel Content Liquidators. “You don’t need to have a lot of money.”  Some items are even going for $1, perfect for the penniless college student. 

The sale is from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday at The Pump Room, located at 1301 North State Parkway.

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