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Monica Foster of The Skanner
Published: 28 March 2007

According to a recent study on the link between poverty, race and food access in King County, low-income people living in neighborhoods like Rainier Valley are cutting back on healthy foods because they can't afford them.
"People are stretching their money and buying energy-deficient foods that are high in sugar, fat and sodium, such as Top Ramen," Jamillah Jordan, lead researcher of the Grocery Gap Project, which compared Seattle's Rainier Valley and Queen Anne neighborhoods. "People are making conscious decisions about what they can and cannot afford to buy at the grocery store so that they can be able to pay their bills every month."
The study found that, on average, groceries in the Rainier Valley cost 29 cents more a week than the national standard and $1.97 more a week in Queen Anne.
Jordan shopped for the basics — bread, meat, milk and cheese, fresh fruits and vegetables and condiments — at nine retailers on Queen Anne and ten in the Rainier Valley to see if a family of four can buy a week's worth of food on $121.30 a week,  the maximum a family of four with two school-age children can receive through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's food stamp program. In Washington State alone, one-half million people rely on food stamps to buy groceries each week.
Jordan's Grocery Gap Project, a pilot research study, compared and identified the availability and costs of healthy foods in low-income communities and communities of color compared to more affluent neighborhoods. Focus groups were formed to see what mattered to residents when shopping.
Jordan, an Emerson Hunger Fellow with the Congressional Hunger Center in Washington, D.C., a year-long leadership development program that focus on developing leaders to fight hunger and poverty, worked with Solid Ground (formerly the Fremont Public Association) for six months to see if low-income people can afford healthy, nutritious food.
The study found that independent and medium-sized grocery stores such as Trader Joe's, Vina and Viet Wah offer a greater variety of healthy foods at cheaper prices than major supermarkets in the Rainier Valley, and that more of these items were available on store shelves in Queen Anne than in Rainier Valley.
"The medium sized markets are really able to fill a niche and provide great produce to their community at an affordable price, and in turn, the communities tend to support them," Jordan said.
The study also found that a family of four who don't receive the maximum $121 weekly food stamp benefits would have trouble purchasing healthful foods in Seattle. The average household benefit for food stamps is $183.38 a month in Washington State, below the national average of $213.91.
"We can have all the public education campaigns that we want about eating five fruits and vegetables a day but if your not able to afford them it makes a big difference in your eating habits," Jordan said.
The study concludes that the high cost of fresh produce, whole grains and low-sodium foods significantly reduces the ability of low-income families to eat nutritiously, and increases health issues such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension.
Jordan would like to see the Grocery Gap Project expanded to include more of Seattle's neighborhoods, to create a more comprehensive understanding of disparities in the cost and availability of nutritious, wholesome food throughout the region.

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