Richard Mize: OKC food insecurity is about more than stores
Food insecurity in northeast Oklahoma City, ZIP Code 73111 specifically, is nothing new, of course, Ward 7 City Councilwoman Nikki Nice just got the city to focus on it with a moratorium on small-box dollar-type stores.
Then, in August, the area's one supermarket abruptly closed, sounding an urgent alarm.
Food insecurity — that is, the lack of access to healthy food — leads to health problems, the kinds borne by the city at large one way or another.
It starts with lower average lifespans, lost human promise, lost opportunity and lost "production," to put it in economic terms.
Food insecurity and related health and quality-of-life issues in 73111 were not ignored before this year. For example, volunteers and churches in northeast Oklahoma City have done what they can with limited or no resources to improve lives.
Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), 2301 NE 23, Redeemer Lutheran Church (ELCA), and New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church, 2540 N Martin Luther King Ave., have offered seminars twice a year on healthy living for seniors in a joint health ministry since 2012, using a small grant from Indian Nations Presbytery. (Note: The ministry started four years before I became Trinity's pastor in 2016. I can take no credit for it. I am happy to praise it and unabashedly promote it.)
A survey of the small memberships of Trinity (20-30 in Sunday worship: IMMEDIATE SEATING) and Redeemer (30-40: same!), which generally reflect the area's demographics, showed 80% wanting to learn more about healthy eating and engaging in more physical activity.
Further, more than half were interested in healthy cooking and food preparation, low-impact aerobics, strength training, health fairs and regular health checks, help with medical choices, and spiritual renewal, among other needs. The seminars aim to meet those kinds of needs.
- Related to this story
- Article: Northeast OKC to lose only full grocery
- Article: Oklahoma City regulates dollar stores in 73111 ZIP code, looks to create better health outcomes
- Article: Eastside opportunity: Sudden closing of grocery could lead to other changes
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- Article: Mize: Oklahoma City symposium explores food insecurity in 73111
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- Video: An oasis in the food desert
- Video: Northeast OKC loses only full grocery
All of which is to point out something to anyone who wonders whether zoning can do any good when the market hasn't: I don't know, but this is about more than stores.
The proposed Healthy Neighborhoods Overlay District for 73111, roughly from NE 16 north to E Wilshire Boulevard between N Kelley Avenue and N Bryant Avenue, is just one tool, although a potentially effective one. It would require "dispersal of locations of Small-Box Discount Stores unless they have a pharmacy or provide at least 500 square feet of retail space dedicated to the sale of fresh meats, fruits and vegetables."
Someone asked me: "Is the demand for healthy foods truly great enough for a grocer to make a solid buck?"
That's just one of the questions, isn't it? This is more than a market issue, and if there is any long-term improvement — in the supply, demand, and distribution of food, the health of the community, knowledge of and practice of healthy habits — it will take more than a store, or market approach.
The market system in that part of town was deliberately held back by covenant restrictions, lending restrictions, and other racist policies. Looks to me like it will take deliberate rebuilding to get any kind of market to function the way it ought to.
The city council will take up the Healthy Neighborhoods Overlay District on Jan. 7. With that, here are the facts and stats, as summarized by city staff:
"Since the declaration of the moratorium, the city has researched the impact of limited access to affordable and nutritious fresh meats, fruits and vegetables. According to the Oklahoma City-County Health Department, Oklahoma City Zip Code 73111 has a health index ranking of 47 out of 56 and a life expectancy of 69 years, which is 5.9 years shorter than the Oklahoma City-County average.
"A contributing factor to those poor health outcomes is a lack of access to healthy food. It has been widely reported that the Northeast Quadrant of Oklahoma City is a 'food desert,' as the availability of a full-service grocery store that provides access to healthy foods is extremely limited in this area. Further compounding the issue, the last full-service grocery store in the area closed effective August 5, 2019.
"The term 'food desert' was defined in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 as '… an area in the United States with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, particularly such an area composed of predominantly lower-income neighborhoods and communities.' Food deserts are a critical public health issue, as a healthy diet is linked to reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.
"More than 75% of the ZIP code 73111 area is comprised of low-income census tracts where more than 100 housing units do not have a vehicle and are more than one-half mile from the nearest supermarket. According to the Lynn Institute, a majority of residents in the 73111 ZIP code said they consume less than one serving each of fruits (56.7%) and vegetables (50.2%) per day and the rates of cardiovascular (85%), hypertension (325%), stroke (128%), heart attack (15%), and diabetes (125%) disease mortality are all higher for residents in the 73111 ZIP code than U.S. averages.
"Five Small-Box Discount Stores currently exist in 73111. None of these offer fresh meat, fruit or vegetables. Diversity of grocery options, including the sale of fresh meat and fruits and vegetables within the community promotes the public health, safety, and welfare. Regulation of the location and concentration of Small Box Discount Stores is necessary to preserve property values, prevent blight and protect the health, safety, and general welfare of the residents of Oklahoma City."
You can email Real Estate Editor Richard Mize at firstname.lastname@example.org.