Until recently, gentrification was nothing more than another big word that few people could define. But that didn’t last long. It’s now nearly impossible to discuss the status of any city in the U.S. without also bringing up the impact of gentrification.
What the heck is it?
Gentrification is a term describing the influx of wealthy or upper-class people to a low-income area of an urban city. People try to brush off this transformation as nothing more than inevitable urban development or the revival of a troubled and failing community. In reality, gentrification is actually contributing to the destruction of diversity in America.
What does that have to do with food?
Although the term is typically linked to the housing market, that is not the end all, be all when it comes to gentrification. Changes in the food market are actually largely to blame as well.
With the popularity of various food trends, low-cost meal options for poor families have suddenly shot up in prices to cater to the “hip” new community. A lot of food that used to be ignored due to its derogatory label as “poor-man” food is now considered to be “trendy” and quite coveted among the wealthy foodie population.
Once cheap and accessible foods like collard greens, peanut butter, and sweet potatoes, are now triple the price. Consumers are turning a blind eye because these foods are presented in an #instaworthy fashion. Does it really matter that you paid $14.95 for a once ten-cent potato as long as it gets 200+ likes?
It is easy not to think twice about the ramifications of your appetizing bowl of quinoa salad or syrupy stack of sweet potato pancakes, but as the demand for these type of ingredients goes up, they become more expensive.
Low-income consumers who once relied on these low prices and high nutrition, they are now left with either a newfound reliance on highly processed and sugary foods or forced to relocate to a new area entirely.
We have to blame someone, right?
There is a reason that Whole Foods Market acquired the nickname “whole paycheck.” When they opened their doors, they managed to turn broccoli and spinach into luxury items, transforming their store into a mecca for foodies everywhere.
Their marketing strategies are simple, yet they fool just about every food and health junkie out there. Slapping the label “super-food” in front of practically anything creates the opportunity to charge double for it.
Since the emergence of the “super-food” in 2011, the cost of a bushel of greens increased by 25% in 2014. What once cost only $0.88, is now ringing up at $1.10. Those numbers have continued to increase in the past two years and are expected to rise in years to come.
I’m not saying that Whole Foods is singularly responsible for food gentrification, but it does serve as a prime example. Restaurants and markets that are escalating their prices to cater only to the top 1% of people, creating a bigger problem for people outside the bubble.
While there is not much we can do to change food gentrification tomorrow, a small way to counteract its continuation is to reject the institutions that support it. Markets and restaurants that are overcharging for simple ingredients are top contributors to this issue. The next time you’re paying $12.00 for an açaí bowl, consider the complications that could be bringing to your community.