Image: Whole Foods Market in the East Village of New York, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from shankbone's photostream

You know, I spent an entire week writing about shopping at grocery stores and how to get the most bang for your buck.. but it’d be wrong of me to fail to acknowledge that access to those kinds of stores is a privilege. I mean, thinking of all the options and opportunities that I have to get what my daughter and I need.. but it wasn’t always that way.

I can remember being very young – maybe around age 5 – and going to my Grandmother’s house every day as my Mother would go to work. I cling to these memories because she passed away when I was about 10. As my Mother was always working like a dog to care for me, Grandma pretty much raised me during those years.

Grandma, quite frankly, lived in the projects during the majority of the time she spent watching me. I hated fighting the other kids (and hell, let’s be real – my other cousins and Uncles) for the TV, so I was always outside playing or reading when I wasn’t in school. I mean, I was gone, man. Didn’t really love the other kids in the neighborhood – and Grandma knew that – but she wasn’t about to let me grow up “by myself,” so to speak. I guess after raising 7 kids of her own by herself (her husband, my Grandfather, passed away too soon), she knew what she was doing.

For me, my thing was always asking my Uncles for $0.50. Two quarters was all I needed to creep across the street, grab a bag of potato chips and a Big Red pop. That’s all I wanted. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, that served as lunch some days. It wasn’t every day that I had to enjoy the …deliciousness of a Dorito, because one of the houses in the projects was devoted to offering up free lunch.

Ahh, yes. Free lunch. The equivalent of a lunchable with a carton of milk. All the kids in the projects would come running at a quarter to noon because if you were late, you were out of luck! You got your two pieces of bread, your piece of bologna, your packet of mustard, a piece of cheese, two cookies and chocolate milk. I can remember free lunch days being the only days I got chocolate milk. Grandma just… could never keep stuff like that in the house. Everyone would always beat me to it.

I can also remember spending summertime, as a child, in Selma, AL with my great Grandmother. She, who was and is still anti-processed foods, gave me these fantastic memories of playing in her garden and watching her tomatoes, squash and lettuce every day. I even remember her neighbor, Mr. Sandman, who made his own vanilla ice cream – in my mind’s tongue, I can still taste it. Whenever Aunt Sissy (for anyone unfamiliar with proper Southern diction, that “Aunt” is actually pronounced “Ain’t“) didn’t get to me first, he was always stuffing me with something fresh from his stash. A summer of squash, fried green tomatoes, corn pancakes and other dope-yet-somehow-still-not-fattening delicacies was how I… “got by.”

A whole community of folks who were pretty much used to only having each other to “get by,” and used to being reduced to only what they could get access to in order to make it. I mean, keep it real – if you can’t afford to buy a $3 carton of ice cream, you can certainly grab some ice, salt, vanilla extract and milk from your fridge and make your own, right? My Aunt Sissy, who is looking forward to her 100th birthday today… is still tending to her garden and frying the hell out of some green tomatoes, no doubt.

Why the trip down memory lane? This:

In the Seattle area, a region with an average obesity rate of about 20 percent, only about 4 percent of shoppers who filled their carts at Whole Foods Market stores were obese, compared with nearly 40 percent of shoppers at lower-priced Albertsons stores.

That’s likely because people willing to pay $6 for a pound of radicchio are more able to afford healthy diets than people stocking up on $1.88 packs of pizza rolls to feed their kids, the study’s lead author suggested.

“If people wanted a diet to be cheap, they went to one supermarket,” said Adam Drewnowski, a University of Washington epidemiology professor who studies obesity and social class. “If they wanted their diet to be healthy, they went to another supermarket and spent more.”

The findings held true for the three highest-priced grocery stores in the Seattle region, including Whole Foods, where an average market basket of food cost between $370 and $420, and obesity rates went no higher than about 12 percent.

By contrast, at the area’s three lowest-priced stores, including Albertsons, the same basket of food cost between $225 and $280, and obesity rates went no lower than about 22 percent. – [found via “Skinny People Shop At Whole Foods“]

I keep thinking of my Grandma who, on her fixed income and the money she made from sitting for children, would’ve had quite the tough time trying to feed us all on the pricier diet. Conversely, my Aunt Sissy wouldn’t have cared. Her stuff was just as good as theirs… maybe even better since it grew by her hand and with her love.

But wait – there’s more:

His research team studied 2,001 shoppers in the Seattle area between December 2008 and March 2009, tracking their choice of supermarkets and comparing it with their education, income and obesity rates. They measured obesity by asking consumers to report their height and weight, then calculating body mass index. People with a BMI higher than 30 were identified as obese.

Drewnowski was quick to note that the study focused only on Seattle, which has an obesity rate much lower than the U.S. average of about 34 percent. He doesn’t claim that the same rates would bear out in other cities.

But, he said, it’s likely that similar patterns might be found elsewhere: Wealthier people who shopped at higher-end stores would be thinner, while poorer people who shopped at cheaper stores would be fatter.

It’s not a matter of availability, Drewnowski said. All of the stores in his study stocked a wide range of nutritious food, including plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Instead, he contends it’s because healthy, low-calorie foods cost more money and take more effort to prepare than processed, high-calorie foods. In a separate study two years ago, Drewnowski estimated that a calorie-dense diet cost $3.52 a day compared with $36.32 a day for a low-calorie diet.

I just.. I don’t know. Aside from the fact that I have a few questions about some of the numbers this study offers up, this is a bitter pill to swallow. And let’s face it. Considering the locations and resources that a vast majority of the Black community has to cope with, where does that leave us as a collective? Two thirds of us overweight? Dying of wholly preventable diseases?

I look at my Mother now. Successful by her own hand. A beneficiary of her very hard work who, after sticking with that same company for several decades, has access to opportunities and options that are incomparable to what her Mother – or her Mother’s Mother, for that matter.. regardless of whether or not she would’ve made use of them – would’ve had. I imagine my Grandma would be proud of her for having resources she did not, and hope that she was taking advantage of ’em. My Aunt Sissy, though, would probably tell her to save her money and grow her own damn tomatoes, already.

At this point, all I have are questions. Is this the bitter reality of society and, mind you, Capitalism? The more money you have, the more access you have to better opportunities? Or is it a matter of not taking advantage of the community and resources you have and making it work? Or hell.. do we even know whether or not people know they have options and resources to use? If the disparaties are caused by money, how do we make it easier? If the problem is time, how do we make it quicker? If the issue is that it’s too daunting a task, how do we fix that?

‘Cause really, at this rate… without effort, movement, education and progress? We ain’t gon’ make it.