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Ramona Gardens' Lone Market Sells Rotten Food at Jacked Up Prices. What is the Real Cost for the Community?

Hard to imagine this fruit is a luxury, but for many in Los Angeles, it really is (Photo by Lucyrk in LA via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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NPR's "All Things Considered" profiled the East L.A. community of Ramon Gardens yesterday, shining a spotlight on the city's oldest housing project's lack of food options. Unlike in South L.A., where civic leaders are trying to tame the omnipresent fast food beast and lure in grocers, this community doesn't even have a bunch of lousy liquor stores or burger stands.

From the NPR story:

Ramona Gardens is in a part of East L.A. that's never been able to attract a big supermarket for at least two reasons: People who live here don't have much money, and the area has a reputation for gang violence. People depend on the lone convenience store that survived looting during the 1992 L.A. riots.

At that one store, however, explains Ramona Gardens resident Olga Perez, the food is overpriced, and old. How old? She describes maggots in the Rice-a-Roni box, green sour cream, and furry orange juice among her purchases.

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Taken to a Santa Monica grocery store, Perez is as agog as a kid in the proverbial candy store, ogling the fresh produce, including organic options--something she hadn't even heard of before. She says the street vendor with his fruit cart shows up in her neighborhood when she is at work. The nearest store is three miles away--a trip for which Perez rides the bus, and hauls what she can carry home by hand. That store, Superior, has recently re-instated a free shuttle to bring customers to them for those who spend at least $40 on their trip.

The consequences of this lifestyle come in the form of obesity: 9-year-olds weighing 150 pounds, and their 14-year-old siblings weighing 250 pounds, and up. Diabetes is a prevalent health issue in the community, too.

Perez hopes she can be part of an effort to bring better food into her community. It isn't impossible, as we summarized in 2009 after an evening of listening to leaders and organizations doing just that around the state:

So often food does glue our community together, and can make us better individuals and communities if we are willing to rethink old bad habits, get our hands dirty and perhaps work up a sweat, and push for a better way of life...something all Californians, and all Angelenos, truly deserve.

Today, Perez is saying the same thing: "It doesn't matter if we live in a low-income area. We all deserve to eat the fresh fruits that nature provided for us. We shouldn't be divided."