Food desert in the middle of the city
For residents of North Central Regina, finding fresh food can be a bit of a struggle. There are several grocery stores on the outskirts of Regina, but for one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the city, getting there can be difficult. For this reason, North Central is being referred to as a food desert.
According to Alison Hayford, a former Sociology Professor from the University of Regina, there are several reasons for the absence of a grocery store in the area.
The first issue Hayford cited was that the supermarket chains want to be able to have large stores, and finding land in North Central Regina can be difficult.
“When locations are being determined, there are a couple of factors that the big chains take into consideration. One is the cost of the location, but there may have been tax breaks for those on the peripheral areas of the city. All cities have encouraged that kind of new development,” she explained.
“Basically they don’t want to go into areas where people are poor, because they don’t have money to spend, and areas like North Central are perceived as being dangerous and they want to avoid robbery.” – Alison Hayford
In addition to this idea, Hayford also said the lack of supermarkets in North Central was because of the low income of most residents in the community, meaning less money to spend on groceries.
“Basically they don’t want to go into areas where people are poor, because they don’t have money to spend, and areas like North Central are perceived as being dangerous and they want to avoid robbery,” she said. “Even when supermarkets have a good produce section, poor people might not have the money to buy those things. Things like soda pop are often cheaper.”
A primary concern of forcing residents of North Central to turn to junk food is the obvious health concerns that arise from a consistent unbalanced diet.
“A lot of the health problems for inner-city people have been attributed to their lack of access to good quality food,” Hayford said. “Poor neighbourhoods have a fair number of fast food places and convenience stores that sell what we perceive as junk food. Where there are supermarkets selling fresh fruit, meat and vegetables, in poor neighbourhoods they tend to be poorer quality.”
Michael Parker, a resident of the area and employee of the North Central Community Association, states that available groceries in North Central are not only often bad quality, but are also very expensive. He noted a 4-litre jug of milk bought at a North Central convienience store would cost $7.50, while the same jug bought at a regular grocery store would cost a mere $5.00.
Residents of North Central are beginning to see some progress as the issue works its way into the public eye.
“[There’s] what is called a mobile food store, so they put that up in the Albert Scott Community Centre on Mondays,” Parker said. “Now, the hours are really short and it’s mostly because of funding, and we’re having trouble getting the word out. They carry the basics at a non-profit price, and they do the same thing at the Rainbow Youth Centre on Thursdays.”
Residents of North Central are having less difficulty getting fresh food, but until a permanent grocery store is available, health issues will persist. According to Hayford, the issue is much deeper than just providing fresh food, as many do not know how to cook healthy meals or have the facilities to store and prepare food.
“When people buy fresh fruit and vegetables, they’re still going to fast food joints. It’s not a quick and easy solution,” Hayford said. “People don’t automatically gravitate to a healthy diet once it’s accessible.”