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New Meaning to Eating Local

Sep 15, 2009

by Angie Tomisser, VIA’s Interior Designer

Obesity is on the rise, we have all read the burning headlines. My question is why are low income areas hit harder than more affluent communities? Research shows that poorer neighborhoods are less walk-able and have far less access to healthy food sources. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered first hand, the uphill battle these low income communities face.

Like most young married couples trying to buy their first home, we found ourselves struggling to find affordable housing prices in the nicer neighborhoods of Seattle. As a result we were lead to a great property in South Seattle along the light rail line. Moving from North Seattle, where there is a PCC or café on every corner, to the south end was quite a shock. Not only does the South Seattle community face significant crime and violence, but the options for providing a decent meal for your family are scarce to say the least. The following images are of establishments located within walking distance of my home.


Many folks who reside in areas like mine, rarely have access to a vehicle and primarily get around by bus or on foot. Which is why when five o’clock rolls around and your kids are hungry, many find it cheap, fast and convenient to run to the McDonalds down the street. Riding the bus to work in the morning, we share the ride with many teens on their way to Franklin High School. Countless times I’ve watched as they consume their breakfast of Cheetos and soda, picked up at the Exxon station near the bus stop.

We had assumed that the local grocery store would provide healthier options like fresh fruit and vegetables. Unfortunately, just as it looks from the picture, the Safeway proves to be just as bad on the inside. I seldom stop at this store because in the past I have found it to have very poor selection and I have questioned the quality and freshness. In fact, we drive over three miles to a neighboring store to do our grocery shopping because the only thing I feel comfortable buying there is canned or frozen food.

One night last week, against our better judgment, we decided to stop for a few last minute dinner items. As I approached the produce department, my first impression was good. Pleasantly surprised, I lucked a zucchini squash off of the shelf, only to find a pocket of flies exit with its removal. After that, I myself seriously considered eating at McDonalds for dinner too.

If my neighborhood is any indicator of what other economically depressed areas are working with, then it is easy to see why our nation is looking at a serious health epidemic. With the light rail stirring things up in our area, we have all started to see a spark of hope for a once forgotten community. What does this mean for the fight against obesity? Of course establishments like McDonalds will always be lurking, but with Safeway committing to a three million dollar remodel scheduled for completion next April, we are hopeful that the choices will start to improve soon.

The light rail has also opened the door for convenient access to the Columbia City Farmers Market held every Wednesday evening between the months of April and October. The Thistle P-Patch, a year round community run garden is a “hands-on” option, located two blocks off of the Henderson Station light rail stop. Not only does the P-Patch provide a great food source, it also requires some physical activity which is always good for your waist line.

There is no magic trick that will transform your community into one full of vigor, and health, not even a trick called “light rail.” This magic only happens when a community speaks out and takes action, one that works with each other to organize community gardens, and demands easy access to farmers markets. One that voices their concerns about the quality of products provided at the local supermarket. And most importantly, a community that teaches their children that gas station food is not a good source of nutrition, and that taking the time to prepare dinner has a much greater value than a three dollar hamburger.

Image Credit: Thistle P-Patch