Monday, July 11, 2011

Bayview now has more food choices

Mo Betta Food in Bayview
By Kenneth Hill and Jasmine Vassar, SEFA Food Guardians

When it’s time to eat, most San Francisco residents look for food choices nearby that offer the taste they desire at the prices they can afford. In Bayview, most prepared food choices are located on Third Street, crowning it the Mecca of meal time for this Southeastern part of town. For some folks, restaurants are the staple of their diet. Others choose to cook and prepare meals at home. The neighborhood has a strong family element, which can prove challenging at dinner time, as the resources and time to cook meals in family households is at an all-time low in the nation.

When it comes to eating out, there are a variety of meal options ranging from BBQ at JJ’s , Chinese at Peking Wok , pizza and sandwiches at Torino’s, soul food at Auntie April’s and Frank’s , and Mexican at El Azteca Taqueria, just to name a few. Of course there are the fast food chains like McDonalds and KFC as possible sources of cheap meals. However, many locally-owned options exist.

Frank, of Frank’s BBQ, prides himself on having fresh-made seafood, BBQ, and soul food. The menu consists mostly of BBQ meat, fried fish and chicken, and sides like greens, mac and cheese, red beans and rice, yams and corn bread. Frank says he has tried to offer healthier options, such as a vegetarian plate made of just his sides, yet is doesn’t sell. “I have to sell what people want to eat, and people want the meat,” says Frank.

What else is it that the people of Bayview want? “Price range is important, but so is location,” says Michael, a longtime BVHP resident. “If I can go to Torino’s and get a slice of pizza for three bucks, why get on a bus or two to buy groceries and cook? That takes way too long.” However, the price of cheap fast food may costs its frequent consumers more in the long run, as diet-related health diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure rapidly increase.

Not all Bayview restaurants serve cheap food. Z, the manger of JJ’s Fish & Chicken admits.

“The price is high, but the food is excellent.” He prides himself on running a healthy business- “We cook with trans-fat free oil and use turkey wings for flavor instead of pork, and we also fry healthy.” JJ’s secret to the “healthier” fried poultry and fish is attributed to their 100% whole-wheat breading and high temperature cooking. “With our chicken, you’re getting two to three hundred less calories [than other fried chicken], and a lot people will substitute a vegetable side for fries,” says Z.

For some residents, these restaurants are the only options for affordable hot foods, as access to greater quality foods aren’t as easy to come by, like in other neighborhoods like Nob Hill or the Sunset. Furthermore, the patrons of Bayview restaurants usually come from the surrounding blocks, more than most other neighborhoods in the City. When the T metro line opened in 2007, it was supposed to open up access to other parts of the city, though not everyone agrees this is true. Access to other parts of the city can still be difficult for Bayview residents. Safe and accessible transportation can be a huge issue for determining where the next meal will come from.

Another factor to consider is the nutritional value of the food options in the Bayview. With a predominantly Black population, many of the restaurants serve traditionally Black foods, such as soul food cooked with saturated fats, high in cholesterol, salt and sugar. While soul food gives the taste many people desire, it has never been noted for lowering obesity or diabetes. Traditional versions of soul food featured fresh, nutrient-dense vegetables such as collard greens, kale, corn, and yams. Now many of these vegetables have fallen out of favor and been replaced by other fried foods.

New Fresh Alternatives in Bayview

Today, many children and adults have limited options for fresh vegetables and fruits, and don’t have the palette to accept the taste of healthy foods made with these ingredients. Numerous studies have shown that neighborhoods with access to fresh vegetables have healthier children and adults. Not having access to fresh alternatives in Bayview may be a thing of the past as the date of the highly anticipated Fresh and Easy grocery approaches. With the large number of families and a growing family population, the neighborhood has really needed a new grocery store.

Currently, Bayview residents have limited choices for groceries, with Foods Co on Williams Street and Super Save on Third Street. After being known as a troublesome liquor store in the past, Super Save has made many improvements over the last few years, and now offers a better selection of food. While the Foods Co is much larger, it has been known to provide mostly low-priced, non-nutritious.

But recently, with the work of Southeast Food Access (SEFA) Food Guardians and Foods Co. manager, Roberto Aguilar, customers are now offered a cleaner shopping environment and healthier options to choose from. In the past, residents complained of the dirty shelving, aging refrigeration units, long lines, rotten meats and vegetables. As Foods Co. has been the main source of groceries for an entire community, these quality issues were unacceptable. The store has acknowledged the complaints, and has been working to improve its reputation. Now upon entering Foods Co. customers are welcomed by some fresh produce, which contrasts with the vast array of sugary cakes and pies. Also, customers now have the choice of choosing alternative food items, such as milk, canned fruits, vegetables, and sauces, which are lower in fat, sodium or sugar.

In a recent meeting between the SEFA Food Guardians and the Foods Co store manger, Mr. Aguliar stated "After trying them out, we’ve ordered additional pallets of the low-sodium tomato sauce and vegetables because they flew off the shelves."

Ordering low-sodium tomato sauce and vegetables was something no prior store manager had done before. This simple adjustment allows Bayview residents to eat better, and gives hope to the success of new grocery stores with healthier food options, such as Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market.

Fresh & Easy will open for business on Third and Carroll Streets on August 24th. Fresh & Easy made a commitment to opening a store in the Bayview after many dead-end results from other national grocery chains that declined to open in the neighborhood, due to an alleged fear of not profiting. At Fresh & Easy, customers can expect an array of quality seasonal fruits and vegetables, a variety of low sodium and low-sugar options, as well as organic and all natural options. Fresh & Easy has committed to providing a high standard of cleanliness and a new technologically-advanced green building with bike racks, new refrigeration units, shelves and flooring, as well as wide aisles and a well-lit facility. Fresh & Easy has committed to hiring locally and encourage anyone in the community to apply for employment at 

The Fresh & Easy store is what Bayview needs, according to life-long Bayview resident and former Foods Co. employee, Sheena Hughes.

Ms. Hughes says, “The opening of a Fresh & Easy store would be a beautiful thing for the community. It would give those whom live at the upper end of Third Street the convenience of a grocery store and provide more fruits and vegetables throughout the community.”

Bayview residents welcome the addition of new restaurant and grocery options, located right in our community, that provide the variety of choices that neighborhood residents want, such as convenience, great taste, healthfulness, and a fair price. The option to choose fresh and healthier foods will be a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

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