Stopping by the supermarket to quickly pick up some fruits and veggies is simply another weekly chore for most. Such an errand, however, is not always so easy for many South Los Angeles residents. The community sits in the middle of a “food desert,” meaning that often times, access to nutritious foods is extremely limited.
Food deserts are areas devoid of fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthful whole foods, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The phenomenon typically occurs when an area lacks food providers, such as grocery stores or farmers’ markets.
Over the past five years, a cohort of local businesses and organizations have made it their mission to combat the food desert problem, making efforts to introduce more healthy food options to the area. Süprmarkt is one of these businesses. Founded in 2016, it is an affordable and organic grocery pop-up that aims to serve low-income communities in L.A. and eradicate the food desert.
“We provide affordable and organic food in places where it normally wouldn’t be accessible through pop-ups every Sunday,” said Olympia Auset, the company’s founder.
Süprmarkt ran South Central’s first vegan festival last October, offering discounted vegan cuisine to South L.A. residents. Süprmarkt promotes community health in other ways as well, offering screenings of health history films, free yoga classes, group juice cleanses and other wellness experiences for residents.
Ausset said she and her team have learned many lessons along the way, adjusting and evolving the business as it grows. Currently, Süprmarkt faces the challenging task of securing funding for its first permanent store. For Ausset, however, “seeing young children, starting at the age of five, form better habits by eating our food instead of fast food” makes the hard work well worth it.
Outside of businesses, the South L.A. area is seeing more of an effort to combat the food desert from organizations and nonprofits as well. Community Health Councils is a nonprofit that ensures healthcare and health education is available to disadvantaged and minority communities.
“We saw health as beyond health care; health, to us, was the combination of elements that today is called social determinants of health,” said CEO Veronica Flores.
Flores emphasizes the importance of looking at health on a larger scale as “communities don’t live in isolation of issues.”
Flores explained the council’s biggest challenge is demonstrating demand for produce to convince grocery stores to bring it to the area. This problem becomes twofold, as the lack of local grocery businesses causes South L.A. residents to travel elsewhere to do their shopping, taking money out of the community, she said.
Aura Vasquez, a candidate running for a City Council seat in South L.A., has plans to combat the area’s food desert. In District 10, which includes parts of neighborhoods like Leimert Park and Baldwin Hills, she plans to make changes that would allow for more food markets to open.
“I’m planning to expand the permitting for fresh produce and other goods to small stores and bodegas for L.A. We need more convenient stores selling fresh produce and more farmer’s markets [made] accessible to people in the district,” Vasquez said in a message to Annenberg Media.
Annenberg Media also reached out to candidates Channing Martinez, Grace Yoo, Chancee Dawson and Melvin Snell for comment on their plan to combat the food desert. None of them immediately replied.