The food deserts of Memphis: inside America’s hunger capital | Divided Cities

The food deserts of Memphis: inside America’s hunger capital | Divided Cities

Right now, there are 23.5 million
Americans who live in what we call ‘food deserts’. We wanted to come up with
priorities, what were the needs in the larger South Memphis area and one thing
that came up over and over again was access to food. You can easily get to a
McDonald’s and there’s food on every block, it’s just not high-quality food. We blame the individual for so long and it’s not the individual’s fault. There’s a lot of money in Memphis and
there’s a lot of poverty. You know, we have parts of South Memphis
where whole streets and blocks are just vacant. It’s like a war, that people left due to some
catastrophe but it was just white flight and sprawl. And so what used to be a small
family-owned grocery store is now a vacant building and on one end of it,
they have a liquor store. That’s typical of South and North Memphis. Nobody is going to be attracted in terms
of grocery stores, retail to an area that is sparsely populated and looks
and feels dangerous. So, a food desert by basic definition is
a place where the majority of residents don’t have access to what
we call a supermarket. And a large percentage of the
residents don’t have transportation. From our office in South Memphis, our
closest supermarkets are 2.3 miles and 2.5 miles away respectively and one-third of our residents don’t have access to an automobile. My name is Dolores Bateman. I have five children. I stay in South Memphis. I work for elementary school as a janitor. A couple of years ago, it was a grocery
store right up here across the street but it’s been shut down for
over 10 years now. It’s just an empty building. Without transportation, I have to call
and ask someone to come and take me to
the grocery store or maybe catch a bus and it takes like 45 minutes to an hour
just to get to the grocery store. So, when I go to the grocery store this is some
of the basic food that I buy. I buy lasagna, spaghetti, rice … There’s noodles, I have
our canned vegetables, the basic meats … Right here, chicken, pork chops … Basic food. And over here,
I have the kind of quick food. We have corn dogs, burritos, things like that. When I go to the convenience store,
it’s not much I can feed them there. I have to feed them like something quick,
they’re not going to get full off of. But if I go to the grocery store, I get a
chance to cook a four-course meal. Hey, how are you? This is a typical Memphis
convenience store. They have a little produce which I’m proud. They have some potatoes and onions. But if you notice right behind,
there are sodas. Two-litre sodas and snack foods, so
cookies and chips and candy and Kool-Aid. Whole aisles of chips. Even more soda. Sugary American breakfast food, cereals. Mechanically separated chicken which is
already kind of scary sounding. Contains 2% or less of beef, pork, and so those are
the type of ingredients that you’re getting. This is pretty typical of what people have
access to just walking up in their neighbourhood. So the ingredients in grape drink … I don’t know what anything
is other than water. My name is Michelle Williams.
I live in South Memphis. I’ve been here in all my life. They used to have grocery stores in
South Memphis, now they don’t. So, I had to go to the bus stop
and I had to wait on the 4 Walker. and I rode it to the North Terminal. And then I transfer to a 2. The journey to the grocery store takes,
I’d say, an hour and a half if the bus comes on time. When I go to the grocery
store, I get everything that I need. Having to take two buses is stressful
and it’s frustrating but I still had to go, you know,
to have food in the house. East Memphis is a majority white, upper
middle class and wealthy area. Affluent people who own multiple automobiles have
choices and much access to fresh food. And so, we’re in a parking lot of a
well-known brand, Whole Foods, and across the street,
there is a national grocery store chain. That same chain has a very upscale store
on the other side of the movie theatre and just a mile and a half away,
is a Sprouts grocery store. Not even a mile east of here is a Fresh Market. This is very different
from the experience of Memphians four or five miles north of here, six miles
south-west of here in South Memphis in the most distressed neighbourhoods. The irony is that as integration of
neighbourhoods became more prevalent, a lot of folks moved out of those
neighbourhoods. So, the people that remained where we
now have these food deserts are people that simply did not have the resources to move. The challenges are multiple. When grocery store operators look at:
can they make money? The answer from their perspective
is: possibly but probably not. So this site is one of
the sites that we identified as a potential location for a
grocery store in South City. This probably would have been the most ideal
site for a grocery store operator. The property was on the market – it was at a
price point frankly that was just above our ability to pay as well as try to
provide incentives to the grocery store operator to make it an economically viable opportunity. So over time it’s now been acquired by one
of our local craft brewery companies and they’re building a brewery that
hopefully will provide some jobs for the residents. It will help them from an economic standpoint,
it’ll be a great addition to the city but unfortunately it won’t be available
for a grocery store. Redlining is a federal policy from the 1930s. The Federal Housing Administration
and policy makers decided to work with the lending institutions to draw maps, to talk about where it was best to lend
their money for residential mortgages. They talked about the high-risk areas
where they did not want to make investments because the chance of them
being repaid were low and those areas and cities look like areas where
moderate and poor people lived and where black and minorities lived. When banks won’t make investments
in residential mortgages, they also don’t make
investments in small businesses. The sad part is that this redlining map is
almost identical to how lenders make residential mortgages in 2019. Can you help me find all the grains or starches? I was trained to educate families
on healthy eating. Common health issues we see with our patients range from pre-diabetes to full-blown type 2
diabetes to hypertension, to elevated blood pressure … These are things that we
commonly were thinking of with your middle-aged parents or even grandparents
and now we’re seeing them in children that are eight, nine and 10 and fourth
grade and middle school. Zucchini, that’s a weird word . Zucchini.
– Zucchini. Sounds like bikini. Bikini? Yeah! That’s what we are chopping today. Every corner you turn,
there’s always a fast food restaurant but if we can get more restaurants in
our city where you can eat healthy food, especially in certain communities in
certain areas, we would actually love that. We blame the individual for so long and
we have to start seeing that that’s not working. It’s not the individual’s fault. It is our entire environment and we’re not going to see changes in health until
we go out into the community and create change. South Memphis farmers market is
in its 10th season. It came about because
of a neighbourhood plan called the South Memphis
revitalisation action plan. We wanted to come up with priorities, what
were the needs in the neighbourhood and one thing that came up over and over
again was access to food. I’m one of the seniors that over the years,
things have just moved away from us. So when works brought this to us,
this was a godsend. We should have more of these. I’m loving it. The gatekeeper of income, lower poverty, house in
my home is a feared giant in the seven kingdoms. The next time my dad gotta pay
for our food with stamps your mouths better stay shut. Your eyes better stay glued
to your grocery bag to the woman who said my cousin was a burden. To the man who said my EBT card is an eyesore Isn’t this American flag looking at me ain’t enough? Imagine.

100 thoughts on “The food deserts of Memphis: inside America’s hunger capital | Divided Cities


  • Would be nice to see the community mobilise to grow their own produce. If all that vacant ground were turned to food production, they have the climate to grow all year round. It just needs investment.

  • By the way this didn’t just happen to Memphis it’s been like this for years! I moved away 11 years ago in 2008 and it was like this ever since I could remember. But back then there was no Whole Foods or sprouts just Kroger, Aldis. They have a Sav-A lot and Dollar General in nearly every neighborhood but all they have is generic junk food which is worse than the name brand junk food.

  • Healthy food is a human right no matter what, and it is dissapointing that in this day and age in the United States we have an issue like this.

  • If you want to see the destruction of a race or group, or what happens when you put women in charge, look no further than the African American Community, no young black males, no 21- 40 year old, it's a community full of nothing but women and old black men feeding their children poison everyday, and this is happening nationwide.

  • Great reporting, again, The Guardian, kudosπŸ‘
    It's a despicable situation out there indeed, I honestly think it's in huge part working of the lobbyists in that highly processed (often sugarly) food manufacturing industry. More people should realise that and turn back to home cooking etc., peace!

  • These people are lazy! They've had their hand out on welfare for so long that they no longer know how to fend for themselves. The welfare system also promotes single parent families which is at the root cause of the community problems.


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    β€’ Divided Cities ep 2: Why Havana's taxi drivers vastly out-earn doctors β–Ί

  • Okay, so one of the biggest problem seems to be mobility. Stores like Whole Foods or Krugers won't open a store near to the rural (?) poor part of memphis. If you don't have a car you are screwed.

    The first thing in my mind. Wouldn't it be profitable for someone to buy a Minibus and rebuild it to a kind of "mobile-grocery-store"? Like, the bus would stop in those areas in need and offer groceries like potatoes, onions, all kind of leafy-greens, rice, noodles and prepackeded meat in a fridge and maybe even fruits?

  • The Guardian, you forgot to just come out and say that the reason why Michelle Obama's program failed was that RACIST WHITE AMERICANS refused to let it work in schools and communities. They couldn't fathom the idea of that black family in the White House running the country and actually IMPROVING it. For some reason, now they don't understand why the world is shocked at the US today…

  • argh this is so frustrating yet it would be relatively easy to solve – they could easily produce so much plant based foods on those empty lots that they could distribute locally. what's needed is to take the profit element out of the whole equation. that is, stop waiting for supermarkets to come as they are only interested in making a margin by getting to your pocket anyhow, and instead set up produce and distribution coops. would solve so many issues mentioned here. for an example in the US, look at Cooperation Jackson.

  • I have never eaten canned food…. Love my fresh farm produce… Third World Privilege I can't trade with any πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

  • The food industry is built on corn like the world is built on oil, so junk food is highly subsidized by using corn in those products; soda, jam etc, because there is so much of it…

  • If you go into distress neighborhoods that have a low population and you open up small mom-and-pop grocery stores. It's going to make money. And then people in other communities are going to come to those. Ladies and gentlemen it can be done. This has a lot to do with racism. Let's just keep it real. And for those you. Don't know what redlining is, go Google it and do your research. Because as she said in the beginning of the video white light. It goes like this America was intended for white people and white people only. You can find a poor white neighborhood, but a business will be more likely to invest in that than a poor black neighborhood. So I would say that if we start with small farmer markets, small mom-and-pop stores. A grocery store that just sells fresh produce. Just start there it will definitely grow.

  • I'm sure that woman could of bought some frozen vegetables and fruit while she was buying frozen meat yet she chose not too.

  • These people don't need the white saviour Guardian. They need to use those many green areas to produce allotments which will provide jobs for black people who can run a stall. White people need to realise a black person is not going to run a fruit and veg store if there is insufficient demand to be profitable. White people also need to stop cherry picking (no pun intended) expensive fruit like grapes, strawberries and avocados, and recognise there are very cheap alternatives such as apples and carrots. Just once white people realise this isn't about you, the world does not revolve around you and allow black people agency over their own destiny!

  • From U.K. The problem seems to be wrong food, rather than no food. If communities could work together they will solve this. Fruit literally grows on trees. There is plenty of space to grow trees. There is plenty of grassed areas that could be used to grow veg. In WW11 people of my parents generation split their time between work, growing veg and sleeping in air raid shelters. Every green space was utilised.

  • What difference will it make if Whole Foods moves into a poor neighborhood? People there won’t be able to afford anything at that store anyways.

  • I would like to donate to the South Memphis Farmers' Market. I live in Toronto, Canada, so there isn't much I can do than support financially. Is there any way to do this? I checked their website but didn't see an option.

  • The list of ingredients for the "Grape Drink" @ 5:18 was most informative, as much for what it doesn't contains as what it does:
    (Per serving) – Saturated Fats 0%, Trans Fats 0%, Dietary Fibre 0%, Protein 0%, Vitamin A 0%, Vitamin C 0%, Calcium 0%, Iron 0%, Sodium 10mg, Sugars 20g
    Most notably, it appears to contain zero grapes or juice of that fruit in any quantity.

  • I'm surprised that some of the local people dont get together and open a shop selling fresh food and meat. All they would need is a transit van and to get up early to go buy the food from the markets. They have to find a way to come together as a community. Men should take the lead.

  • I grew up in a food desert in TN. 40 min drive to a grocery store. We bought tons of canned vegetables and frozen meat and also had our own garden we tended. My parents never took us to the fast food places. It’s all what you decide to do.

  • There needs to be a dual focus of helping those who are struggling, and looking into the policies and political structures that brought about these conditions in the first place!

  • One grocery store would clean up… No competition… It's a WS policy… Note to WS policy makers we going nowhere, got through the harshest life with scraps just made us stronger.

    Judgement day will be something to watch though

  • Well, we all forget that Obama made it illegal to grow food in residential areas……. that must be a factor. Trump should rescind that law.

  • My mom had to walk 7 miles each way after a full day of work to buy us milk and groceries. We didn't have a car for a long time and we ate pretty well all home cooked meals.

  • If you are getting food stamps & section 8, and free healthcare. Why don't you own a car? I came from the bottom and have worked really hard to get where I am. I just think it's a whole lot of excuses. Save yr income taxes and go and buy a car. That's what I did at 18 yrs old. Prioritize yr life.

  • People should start growing their own food. A garden can be put almost anywhere. It doesn’t solve the problem, but it would help.

  • These same folks that blame people that live in these food deserts. Are the same ones that give free tax breaks to big corporations at these folks expense.

  • I live in the hood and went vegan. I have to buy alot of fresh fruits and veggies. I go to stores like kroger, walmart, aldis etc. I get alot of my recipes from youtube so my transition has been great. Losing weight and feel healthier.

  • I dont eat vegetables but im not fat. You can eat mcd everyday and dont get fat if you eat within your calories. That means for a mcd meal, you can only eat once per day and thats all. I aint saying its healthy, just saying you wont get fat. Maybe you will get scurvy tho.

  • as a Caribbean in the US, culture plays a big part in food choices. We were poor like any other person in the area but we ate very different. We can live off rice and beans with green peppers, head lettuce and onions on the side being poor. My parents DID NOT buy juice or soft drinks, we only drank water. Whereas (don't get offended, just an observation) African Americans go for cheap junk food. The fast food restaurants were always busy. my parents always said African Americans ate a lot of junk. They did in my opinion also. a meal at mcdonalds is about $5 each. Thats expensive for a family of 4. we survived off fresh food for cheaper!!! I personally mainly only ate at Caribbean peoples house so I know what I'm talking about!

  • You can't tell me that all that excess dopamine doesn't cause any cognitive impairment within all of these people. This is so f**** sad.

  • I think this should be properly tagged or titled as "Organic Food" deserts cause i'm seeing fat people complain their is no food. but watching it i see what they mean is there isn't easy access to fresh food.

    I'm also thinking why they cant grow their own fresh food in the yard or on all that free land. Is there anything against that? or having chickens?

    Drones can even be used to distribute seeds e.t.c.

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