FRESH Food for Whom? Resident-Perceived Impacts of Government-Incentivized Supermarkets in Two New York City Neighbourhoods

Authors: Michael Chrobok*, University of Toronto
Topics: Food Systems, Urban and Regional Planning, Behavioral Geography
Keywords: Food access, food environment, food policy, retail, poverty
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 31
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In 2009, New York City launched the Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH) program – an inter-agency policy effort designed to incentivize supermarket development in underserved neighbourhoods. While FRESH has facilitated the construction or renovation of over 20 grocery stores, with a similar number of projects in progress, little is known about how these interventions impact the food acquisition experiences of local residents. This paper presents findings from 45 interviews conducted with individuals living near one or more FRESH supermarkets in the Southeast Bronx and Central Brooklyn. Participants praised the opening of FRESH stores for their ability to enhance convenience and reduce costs (financial, physical, or temporal) associated with travel. Many also viewed such retailers as improving the options in their local food environments. Despite these perceptions, most participants continued to use a variety of near or distant shopping venues, citing barriers that limited the frequency or extent with which they could visit or purchase from FRESH supermarkets. High or rising prices, making regular or large shopping trips cost-prohibitive, were identified as a main barrier, especially for individuals receiving social assistance and retirees. Other deterrents included cultural exclusion, neighbourhood safety and walkability concerns, intervening opportunities, and comfort with established routines. This research shows that while food retail interventions can partially improve quality of life, they may insufficiently address or even amplify other access barriers, particularly along economic lines. These findings demonstrate the need for further systemic, multi-scalar efforts to strengthen food accessibility, including investments in poverty reduction.

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