I have been blessed not to live in a food desert since December 2017. Because people in the working class are often told that what they eat is irresponsible, I wanted to do an informal study of the options provided by one of the area’s largest grocers. “Which grocery store is that?” The one with lawyers. For these observations, I stuck with prepped food which could either be taken out of the fridge or put in the oven. This would set the grocery store on equal footing with fastfood since there was no preparation or any cookware involved, both of which require time and energy that most of the working class does not have.
The first option was in what could be called the “poorest area”, but the food options were actually quite varied. Upon map consultation, this was one of the last grocery stores before some dead space between Austin and one of the closest suburbs, which meant that the service area was larger. There were lots of healthy options, and the bus service was quite frequent, meaning that someone would neither have to wait a long time to get there or return home. Traffic around the location was ridiculous because it was on a busy street that intersected with a highway, and the street was under construction. However, it had a healthy customer base of apartment dwellers who were less than mile from the location. Demographically, the area was socioeconomically working class and racially integrated.
The second location was on the same busy street as the first, but did not have the options of the first. There was a lot fewer oven-ready meals but there were also reduced prices for prepped produce in some cases. Bus service was reliable in multiple directions, but the traffic was manageable and there was no construction surrounding the location. Across the street, there was a middle school, but most of the surrounding community was single-family zoning, which made the lack of options curious. Because the area was in the process of being “discovered,” it was socioeconomically middle class, but still racially integrated; I came back later in the summer and found more variety among the oven-ready options.
The third location was located in what could be deemed as a “character community”: historically considered working class, but discovered more than twenty years ago with diminishing racial integration and an upper middle class customer base. Options abounded, and it was very easy to spend a lot of money eating healthy with produce. There were multiple levels of bus service which came frequently, and the location was on an intersection with two busy streets surrounded by established houses. More lines were also open in this location, so people were waiting less time, something that I did not notice in the other locations until I shopped at this one.
The fourth location was in a working class neighborhood on the brink of exponential displacement. While it was surrounded by apartment complexes, many of the complexes were new and those existing were starting to increase in rent. The location was on a busy street, and the bus service was designed for people who either wanted to walk a long way or who owned vehicles. Despite the store being under renovation, there were so many more options in the oven-ready section and endless choices for food that could be taken out of the refrigerator. The customers inside seemed to be a mixture of those who had lived in the community for a long time and those who were new.
What is interesting about this informal study is that all of these locations were technically the same store, but the variations in food items suggested what people were expected to eat. Among the lower classes, there was excessive offerings of processed foods in bulky packaging; with more money, people could buy better products in more eco-friendly packaging. Even though many will argue market patterns and consumption rates, I would posit that there is no basis for such assumptions. After all, none of the locations offered exactly the same food, yet they were all the same store.