Merigian Studios


The Bakery

The Bakery

Recently my wife and I purchased a bakery. Well, not actually purchased one, but let us just say one fell into our laps. The building was built in 1880. The bakery has a proud history of baking breads and pastries for over one hundred years. Now Mr. and Mrs. Paleo have it. The irony of it all: We do not eat bread or much starch at all. So what are we going to do with a bakery? Bake bread.

The bakery is located in an area of Memphis called Greenlaw. It is an area just north of the Pinch district in downtown Memphis. Greenlaw was considered outside the city limits of Memphis a hundred years ago, but now it is an area undergoing gentrification. I believe St. Jude is going to be expanding in Greenlaw's direction in the near future. That is not why we want to run the bakery. We desire to give back to the community and bring it back from being referred to as a food desert. Man cannot live by bread alone.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has mapped thousands of locations across the country where residents continue to live in low-income, low-access to good nutritious food areas. Those who live in these areas are often subject to poor diets as a result, and the population in those areas are at a greater risk of becoming obese or developing chronic diseases such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and dementia.Twenty-four million Americans live in areas without supermarkets or other places where they can access fresh, nutritious foods. These are the areas that are known as food deserts.

I am not that naive to believe that opening a bakery and a deli with good nutritious food will change the community's population's health risks. Interventions have increased food access by encouraging supermarkets to locate to underserved communities, usually through packages of tax incentives. But there are no authoritative scientific studies of what happens when you put a new food supermarket in one of these underserved communities. I suggest nothing will change other than people will have better access to better choices. That is all.

One thing is certain, food deserts do exist in many urban and rural areas of the U.S. Food deserts are a reality for many people who live in disadvantaged circumstances, either in low-income communities or other kinds of communities that might have poor access to neighborhood resources. But I have witnessed poor food choices by people of all socio-economic levels, not just the poor or economically disadvantaged. Nutritional impoverishment or ignorance transcends all socioeconomic levels. There is ample study data to link people who live in impoverished neighborhoods tend to have poor diets. At the same time, they have an increased risk of chronic health conditions. No dispute there. However, I have seen extremely poor dietary habits and chronic health conditions in our patient population which would not be considered economically impoverished, just nutritionally challenged in all ways.

My point here is that actually, very little research evaluates the effectiveness of planting a good nutritious food market in an impoverished area and evaluating whether eating habits change for the better, and the overall health of the people in that area improves. No one knows much about what happens when you try to change the environment. As often is the case in politics, people tend to believe that policies are made from the best available evidence and with the best intentions. So it is in this case, policy has been made from the wider body if information that lends one to project an association between poor diet from lack of access and poor health as a result. The evidence of such causation - lack of access to nutritious foods leads to poor health - is absolutely lacking.

It is worth allowing people to have access to a reasonable range of healthy foods at a reasonable cost. But building supermarkets or providing farmer's markets to increase access will only take you so far in improving what people eat. The logic – “If you build it, they will come” — provides the infrastructure for food desert funding; improving perceptions of more nutritious food access doesn’t necessarily translate into people eating a better diet or becoming more healthy.

I think one of the important reasons that food deserts exist is that the demand for healthy food simply doesn't exist in a world shaped by advertizing and market strategist who are focused on fast food and pizza delivery. There is no conspiracy or concerted effort to keep healthy foods out of low-income, urban neighborhoods. Many of the poor have no stove to cook on, no refrigerator to store food and no understanding about cooking or health in general. They live moment to moment and day to day. They do not live by a meal plan or food consciousness. Without the proper domestic tools, asking the impoverished to shop in a store and buy fresh vegetables and meat to cook is absurd. 

Junk food tastes good, is convenient, is advertized as desirable on television, is cheap and does not require any utility costs to prepare. In a society where convenience is king, cheap unhealthy Fast Food and Junk Food works into our daily lives. The city-run markets that used to provide more fruit and vegetables, have slowly been replaced by hamburgers and hot dog stands, food trucks and gas station stop and shops. I do not know if the poor would eat better if they had a choice between a meat and vegetable salad over a big bag of Lays potato chips, but I would bet on the chips. Most people choose the chips, regardless of their income.

So why would I want to find a way to provide a better choice for those who live in impoverished areas? Because everybody deserves a choice no matter where they live. And I think some people want the better choice. Those people with the same consciousness related to health come to the Stone Institute for healthcare and those same people will come to our bakery for clean, fresh food. Not everybody will come, but enough of them to make the bakery and deli a successful community adventure. And then, we'll open a coffee house next door, "Fifth and Chelsea Coffee."

And if you're going to eat bread, who better to bake and serve you than a man and woman who do not. Paleo bread is coming. We're taking orders now.


Posted by Amanda Sanders at 9:28 AM
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