Friday, April 13, 2012

There’s more to food culture than just restaurants

Actor Wendell Pierce, best known for his roles on HBO’s “The Wire” and “Treme,” is now a proud business owner in his hometown of New Orleans. After opening a convenience store this winter, he and a local business partner plan to open a string of grocery stores beginning this summer. His aim is two-fold: to encourage economic growth in New Orleans and to bring nutritious and affordable food to a food desert.

The lack of grocery stores in New Orleans is a problem made more prominent post-Katrina. The majority of the 21 supermarkets that do exist today are not close to the areas hardest hit. A 2007 survey from Tulane showed that although 58% of low-income residents do not have access to a car, 60% must travel a considerable distance (3 miles) to reach a grocery store.

At first, Pierce intended to come back to New Orleans and just build houses but soon recognized that convenient access to healthy food was necessary for the successful revitalization of the neighborhood. “You start to realize all the parts of infrastructure that are needed,” he comments on his newfound awareness of the complex inter-connectedness of basic necessities.

With the opening of Sterling Farms, his new full-service grocery store, Pierce hopes to revive the sense of community surrounding food that he says characterized much of his childhood. In addition to all the expected services of a grocery store, Sterling Farms will address the specific needs of this community by providing a free shuttle for shoppers and a monthly cookout to raise community funds. Since losing a bid to launch the stores in his own neighborhood of Pontchartrain Park, Pierce has looked elsewhere. Sterling Farms will be located across the Mississippi in Marrero, LA, a neighborhood in which a quarter of households earn less than $25,000 a year. In lieu of a fixed rent, he will pay 2% of sales that exceed $9 million yearly.

Pierce acknowledges the parallels between the lessons he is learning and his personal frustrations with systemic malfunction and those depicted in “The Wire” and “Treme.” “It’s life imitating art, and art imitating life,” Mr. Pierce said.

Check out the full New York Times article at:

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