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Fresh food

Cynthia E. Griffin- | 8/6/2009, 5 p.m.

The Alliance for Healthy and Responsible Grocery Stores, that recently released a report that compared the quality of grocery stores around the city, and while the results were not necessarily a surprise, the magnitude of the disparities between the have and have not communities were greater than anticipated.

"On one hand, the Westside (and areas like that) had grocery chains clamoring to open new stores or renovate old ones. They create quality jobs in the surrounding communities, in contrast to neighborhoods like this one as well as Northeast Los Angeles and East Los Angeles, there are no major food chains, and those that exist, do not provide the same array of services, the same quality of jobs to the community," pointed out Rev. Norman Johnson, during a press conference on Hoover Street and Manchester Boulevard, in front of what was not too long ago a Ralphs grocery store.

Johnson, is co-chair of the Blue Ribbon Commission on L.A.'s Grocery Industry and Community Health.

Among the key findings of the report, which was also delivered to Los Angeles City Council members were:

* The continued consolidation of the grocery industry threatens to further exacerbate the problem of food deserts (communities without access to major grocery stores offering quality produce and other food items);

Grocery stores in low-income communities pay lower wages and are less likely to have programs that minimized the environmental consequence of doing business in community;

* Grocery workers employed by union markets are trained professionals who are held to high standards for public health and food safety.

The report also contained a list of recommendations to city leaders and industry officials; chief among them was to create a policy that imposes a uniform set of health, safety and operational standards on all grocery stores.

The report also suggested investigating offering incentives paired with quality of services standards that would induce more higher-caliber stores to open in underserved communities.

The commission also recommended that industry leaders engage community stakeholders to identify and address concerns.

Commission member and former state and local politician Jackie Goldberg, said the results of the inequities in food distribution are very evident to her since she has returned to the classroom after being away for several decades.

"The visual consequences of food deserts; the difference in 1980 and now is a higher level of obesity, because of the lack of available of fresh fruits and vegetables. You cannot find these (quality fresh fruits and vegetables), in grocery stores in the communities (like Compton where she works). And you cannot miss it, when the kids go out to P.E. Many of the students have terrible diets, and that is partially because of the lack of opportunity for their families to get affordable fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains."

The intent of the commission is simple, pointed out Rabbi Linda Earle Bertenthal, and that is to insure that every person in the city has access to quality food and produce in their own neighborhood.

While the alliance is seeking food equity, a spokesperson for one local chain said his company does serve low-income inner city neighborhoods and provides residents the same quality food found in more affluent community.

"Over 90 percent (of 146 stores) serve predominantly minority communities," said Terry O'Neil of Ralphs, which is the parent company of Food 4 Less. "Food 4 Less offers a large selection of products, foods, poultry and other items that consumers concerned about a healthy diet can purchase. The products that we use, whether for Food 4 Less or Ralphs and whether that store is in south Los Angeles, East Los Angeles, Pacoima, Santa Monica, West Los Angeles or Sherman Oaks, is the same. The product comes from the same suppliers and the same warehouses."

In addition to providing quality foods, the Ralphs spokesperson said employees at both chains have collective bargaining agreements with the food workers union.

Albertson's declined to comment for the story, and Vons did not respond to requests for a statement.