Food mecca S.F. needs to make healthy decisions

Discussions of food in San Francisco conjure up images of locally sourced organic produce in farmers markets or shoppers perusing well-stocked grocery store aisles and weighing the choice between hothouse or heirloom tomatoes. The San Francisco and Bay Area food scenes have so successfully staked out the forefront of such trends that many forget there is a swath of our community that still lacks access to healthy foods in their own neighborhoods.

At first glance, it might appear as though there are an abundance of places at which city residents can buy food, but that is not the case — especially in low-income neighborhoods.

A paltry 20 percent of the corner stores in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood stock a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, according to new city legislation that cited a 2011 assessment of 19 sites there. And other locations in The City that are listed as places to buy food primarily sell alcohol, tobacco products and pre-packaged foods that lack the nutrition found in fresh food.

Supervisor Eric Mar has proposed legislation that would create an incentive for these neighborhood stores to migrate toward selling fresher, healthier food. Introduced Tuesday at the Board of Supervisors meeting, Mar’s Healthy Food Retailer Ordinance essentially asks The City to identify underserved areas of San Francisco, create an incentive for smaller, locally owned stores to sell healthy food and create an annual progress report about how the program is running.

Mar’s legislation focuses on the small shops that are already rooted in the communities they serve and assessing what it would take to encourage them to provide healthier alternatives.

Alcohol, tobacco and sugar have historically been key ingredients in some of the highest-profit items sold in corner stores. Not surprisingly, small businesses lacking the economic clout of chain stores and mega-retailers seem to lean on such items. Mar’s legislation, aside from providing an incentive to make the switch, would set up a one-stop shop to provide assistance, both fiscal and informational, to switch away from products that are less healthy.

It is too early to know whether Mar’s legislation is the appropriate response to the lack of healthy food resources in many neighborhoods of The City. Hearings on the matter will flesh out the benefits and pitfalls of his proposal.

But no matter what comes of Mar’s efforts, the legislation will help by pushing this issue to the fore. San Francisco is known internationally as a foodie town, and it is time this reputation moves beyond the four-star restaurants and into every neighborhood of The City.

editorialsEric MarHealthy Food Retailer OrdinanceOpinionSan Francisco Board of Supervisors

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