Where do the people of Boston get their food? A simple question, with an incredibly complex answer. All throughout the city there are various different stores, supermarkets, and community gardens (just to name a few) which provide food for the people living in these communities. As you travel throughout the city of Boston, the economic situation of those living in these communities changes, and with it, so does access to fresh, healthy food. Over time, communities such as Back Bay, Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, and downtown Boston have changed, and so has food access along with them. The main goal of this project is to explore what food options these places have today, how they have changed over time, and some societal implications which surround these establishments.
With more expensive organic markets sprouting up in Back Bay and Beacon Hill, one might look to other less affluent communities, such as Roxbury, and find a lack of markets providing fresh food. Not only is access based on the wealth of the communities around the markets, but also that the markets exist. Food deserts, along with food insecurity, are a major problem in America, with about 23.5 million living within such an area. In recent years the city of Boston has added numerous grocery stores and vendors, with only two food deserts remaining in the city (found in West Roxbury and East Boston). This number used to be greater, but was decreased by an initiative put into place by the former Mayor Thomas Menino, which committed to “putting a grocery store in every neighborhood.” It is also not just grocery stores. Community gardens and food banks can provide for those who do not have resources to buy food from supermarkets. The access to food and layout of food providers in the city can help build a better understanding of the socio economic landscape, something that can be seen through the walking tour. Sites on the tour are broken into several distinct categories: community gardens, soup kitchens & community pantries, markets, and grocery stores. Though some of these overlap, they each show an important part of the food supply landscape which makes up the city of Boston.
Community gardens and greenhouses can play an important part in getting fresh produce to those in neighborhoods who do not have access to conventional grocery stores, as well as providing an outlet for those who want to grow their own food in an urban area. Sprouting from the land of the Back Bay Fens portion of the Emerald Necklace sits the Boston Victory Gardens. This is where the tour begins. Though somewhat different in its original purpose, its overall goal is roughly the same as two other sites on the tour, The Dudley Greenhouse and the Symphony Road Community Garden. Not only this, but these sites each have a deep historical value adding on to their use today. In the case of The Victory Gardens, its establishment in 1942 served as a way of “boosting morale and helping [to] feed our country” during World War II. The Symphony Road Garden meanwhile was created in the ashes of a building that burned down during an arson crisis during the eighties. While relatively new, having been created in the early 2000’s, the Dudley Greenhouse represents work that is being done in a community to fight off longstanding racial injustices and disparities.
Supermarkets and farmers markets make up the bulk of where people get their food from. This tour looks at some of these markets around the Boston area. Whole Foods has rapidly become a very popular chain within the United States, and Boston is no exception. Two whole foods locations in Boston, Westland Ave and Jamaica Plain, are looked at in the tour. The Westland Avenue location presents the perspective of a market located near the most affluent part of Boston. A similar story can be seen in the Boston Public Market, located in downtown. Representing the upper end of the spectrum of markets in Boston, the establishment holds more expensive products from specialty farmers and chefs. Meanwhile, the Jamaica Plain location offers insight into some of the issues surrounding the development of a large chain such as Whole Foods. Here, the development of the store was surrounded by controversy and backlash from some of the community members. Finally, the Tropical Foods Market represents a historically active market within Roxbury. Since its creation in 1974, the market has maintained a reputation of being the “Supermarket for Everyone” by meeting the needs of its customers and offering hard to find products. One farmers market looked at on the tour is the Brookline Farmers Market. Each of these locations represents different communities and their proximity to healthy foods, along with how some of these locations might fail at providing such opportunities.
As mentioned before, food insecurity is a major problem in America, whether it be the result of food deserts or economic instability. To combat these issues, food banks and soup kitchens help those who need access to food. In the case of Boston, the Haley House stands out as one of the most prominent soup kitchens. Created in 1966, the group started as a means to help those in the community who were impoverished. Over the years, the group has expanded to starting its own organic farm, which it uses to provide food for the soup kitchen and a new café which gives job opportunities to those who were unable to find employment. Looking elsewhere in Boston, the Greater Boston Food Bank and Brookline Food Pantry are two more food banks which provide necessities and fresh food to those in Boston. Together, these locations make up a network of organizations which help to combat food insecurity occurring in the city. Places like these make up a significant portion of where the people of Boston get their food.
The ways in which each of these sites are intertwined, and their implications on the people of Boston, are similar to what was seen in the Boston Globe’s 2017 Spotlight series on racism in Boston. This one particular aspect of the city highlighted how access to food varies between different neighborhoods, while also describing what is being done to combat hunger in the city. Somewhat similarly, it is interesting to note how COVID-19 has caused increased food insecurity, as well as major disruption to the food supply chains in Boston, let alone the whole world. This likely emphasizes how prevalent economic inequality is in the Boston area, with increased volumes of people needing help from food shelters while those with far greater amounts of wealth can continue shopping at organic, boutique markets and places like Whole Foods.
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