Good Blog, Bad Analysis—Misrepresenting Reality

This is a response to a blog post “Good Radio, Bad Facts – Misrepresenting Reality” by David Lehrer on The Wide Angle.

As Jewish leaders who have worked alongside residents in East and South LA while they work to increase their access to regular food and groceries, we are compelled to respond to Mr. Lehrer’s blog post.

The reality is this: families living in East LA and South LA have a disproportionately lower access to grocery stores and stores with quality products than do families in other parts of LA. For example, while there are 12.4 stores per 100,000 residents in 90024, 25, 35, 64, and 67, there are only 2.5 stores per 100,000 residents in 90003, 01, 18, 37, and 62.

You may now ask, is it purchasing power they lack? No indeed. In a survey of over 300 residents of the community in and around Sta. Teresita Church in Ramona Gardens, local leaders learned that families spend over $1 million per year at Superior Grocers.

Mr. Lehrer is correct that Ms. Perez did not have to go to Santa Monica to see good groceries. However, IKAR is a member of LA Voice together with Sta. Teresita Catholic Church.  Recently, two mothers from these two communities switched places for a grocery trip for a day, in an attempt to help each other learn about their different lives. What their experiment revealed is that high-quality, nutritious food that is readily available to some Angelenos is not nearly so available to others. When IKAR leaders did a comparison of apples to apples, they learned that from one person’s door in Los Feliz or West LA, a walk to Gelson’s would net you a cheaper bill for high quality food while a comparable walk from Ramona Gardens to Niko’s market nets a higher bill and barely edible food.

Mr. Lehrer suggests that Ms. Perez ride the bus to the Smart and Final Extra 2.5 miles away.  Although Smart and Final does some things very well, it is NOT a full-service supermarket.  For example, there is no butcher, fish counter, or deli, like we would find in any Ralph’s or Gelson’s on the Westside.  And, assuming Mr. Lehrer has ridden the bus in LA, he would know that the bus is not there waiting whenever someone is ready to go make her trip.

Is it reasonable for an entire community to be 30 minutes from the nearest full service grocery store? How many grocery stores do Angelenos in other parts of the city pass in a 30-minute drive? Ramona Gardens is home to many seniors with difficulty walking and no car. Should they just “buy a $30 cart and walk?”  Let’s not forget that it’s not a one-way trip. How many of us would like our bubbe to schlep a cart full of groceries a mile, wait for the bus on both ends, and then schlep the food to her door from the bus stop?

Is it so offensive when poor people use their purchasing power to ask a place they choose to shop to provide certain conveniences in exchange for their business and hard earned dollars?  Or simply use their power to get a higher quality of life for themselves and their children? I wonder whether Mr. Lehrer would tire of working two jobs, being carless, caring for his children, living on wages that barely support the family, and then being unable to make a simple, short trip to the grocery store in a reasonable amount of time to buy reasonably priced reasonable quality food. Is it really so unreasonable?

If Los Angeles is to become the world-class city we all dream it can be, then perhaps we could start from a place of vision and compassion and ask how we can build our city and build up each other. Could we put ourselves in other people’s shoes and ask ourselves what that would be like? For the sake of our future, we pray we can.