Whole Foods an unhealthy option

April 15, 2011
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As Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center Community Advisory Board members, we are extremely concerned about the effect that the displacement of the Hi-Lo supermarket will have on the health of the Latino community in JP and Roxbury.

For 47 years, Hi-Lo has been a beacon for affordable, culturally central food for the Latino community—not just in JP/Roxbury, but throughout Greater Boston. We all know that the availability of healthy, affordable food is a huge health issue. We can educate people about healthy food choices they should make as individuals, but if those choices are not affordable or accessible, our community will not be healthy.

Whole Foods prices can double those of Hi-Lo, and the store’s goods will cater to the tastes of the gentrified JP. Latino residents, whose median family income is two-thirds less than that of whites and who have double the unemployment rates of whites, according to the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC), will lose access to basic food staples.

Lack of affordable, healthy food in Boston leads to chronic illnesses. The BPHC has documented that a higher percentage of Latino residents are obese compared to whites, and that between 2001 and 2008, the diabetes mortality rate increased by 59 percent for Latinos. As of 2008, Latinos have the highest rate of hospitalizations from heart disease. Losing access to affordable food will exacerbate these numbers, not reduce them.

Finally, for nearly half a century, Hi-Lo has brought in desperately needed income for the Latino community. Forty-five Latino employees in Hyde Square lost their jobs with the flick of a pen. Thousands of Latino customers of Hi-Lo each year also shopped at Latino bodegas, shops and restaurants along Centre Street. Will the clientele of Whole Foods support these Hyde Square businesses, too? What will happen to the unemployed workers—and to their health?

Our health center is part of the Jamaica Plain Youth Health Equity Coalition. Will youth from all parts of JP be able to look forward to good lifetime health? Not unless we address the inequities that youths (mostly youths of color) face in some areas of JP, compared to their counterparts in more affluent areas of JP. Healthy, affordable food is crucial for a healthy future for the children and youths of JP.

Whole Foods’ response has been late and totally inadequate. The national corporation has refused to dialogue with community groups or workers about how their coming will build a stronger JP, not heighten the divide between the gentrified JP and the working-class JP. Why won’t Whole Foods meet with laid-off Hi-Lo workers and community groups? We need answers. We need businesses in JP that build the whole community. We don’t need more outside forces that divide us.

Margaret Noce
Yosha Branch
Co-chairs, Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center Community Advisory Board

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