By Kendyl Brower
Fresh produce lines the aisles of WinCo, Walmart, and Aldi, grocery stores with affordable pricing. Yet, many low-income neighborhoods witness the construction of Whole Foods, a luxury grocery store known for its overpriced goods. Why are low-income areas seeing the construction of unnecessarily costly stores and services? Short answer: gentrification.
The USDA defines “food deserts” as places vapid of fresh produce, usually in impoverished areas due to a lack of grocery stores and farmers’ markets. Thus, many reasons that implementing Whole Foods and other stores benefit the community by providing more access to healthy food. This reasoning is how many developers advertise the construction of grocery stores: a noble cause to address growing health concerns. However, if the goal is to better the health of low-socioeconomic people, why not construct a more affordable store? In reality, luxurious grocery stores attract affluent residents, signaling that the neighborhood is ready to be catered to the middle class. Food promotes gentrification by creating incentives for wealthier newcomers and pushing out ethnic vendors and restaurants.
Zillow, a real estate marketplace app, found that homes near Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s cost more and appreciate 2x more than the median US home. The “Whole Foods Effect” raises the cost of living for lower-income families while forcing them to pay for more expensive groceries. It’s true that impoverished neighborhoods need access to healthy foods—this can be done through proper education about a healthy lifestyle and more affordable pricing on produce, not with extravagant grocery stores. Such high-end markets attract a demographic of usually white, middle-class “hipsters” and other young workers looking for a cheap place to live. Not only do Whole Foods pop up around the block, but artisanal cafes and other shops make the city appear more affluent from an outside perspective while failing to address real issues for long-time residents. New restaurants also kick local shops and street vendors to the curb, appropriating ethnic food and remarketing it to higher-paying customers as “authentic.” Evidently, gentrification allows wealthier people to take over housing and culture, creating a less diverse, more expensive neighborhood.