Food for every child
SUPERMARKET CHAINS are quick to locate on busy roadways that pass through well-to-do suburbs. But in many urban areas — especially the state’s gateway cities — political leaders need to clamor harder for big food stores.
As a recent study underscored, many Massachusetts residents have little access to supermarkets with fresh, healthy food — a finding at odds with the Commonwealth’s image as one of the more health-conscious states. According to the report, prepared for the Massachusetts Public Health Association, the situation is particularly dire in the gateway cities, the mid-sized former mill towns that tend to lag behind the rest of the state economically.
Lawrence is a telling example: a city of 7 square miles and 70,000 residents, it has just two grocery stores. Lowell and Fitchburg, according to the report, have half as many supermarkets per capita as the national average. Over the past 10 years, the head of the Massachusetts Food Association said, existing supermarkets have closed down in Springfield, New Bedford, and Fall River.
In Boston, the story is somewhat different. While parts of Roxbury, Mattapan, Dorchester, and East Boston have fewer food stores than their population would support, on the whole things are improving in the city: more than a dozen new supermarkets have opened in the city in the last decade. This didn’t just happen; Mayor Tom Menino and his predecessor, Ray Flynn, both campaigned hard to convince retail executives that urban neighborhoods can be good locations for supermarkets.
The gateway cities deserve special attention from state policymakers, because their residents don’t enjoy the same political pull and access to policy makers as the inhabitants of many Boston neighborhoods. But civic leaders need to step up, too, and make supermarkets as high a priority as Menino and Flynn did.