EDITORIAL: When you need food for thought
Camden lacks access to supermarkets, nutritious meals
Camden, New Jersey, is commonly and strongly associated with high crimes rates, as well as having a powerfully equipped and highly trained police force. Other than its relevance with issues of crime, the city rarely comes to mind. It may gain ephemeral attention when passing by its train stop or when attending concerts like Warped Tour at the BB&T Pavilion, but for the most part, Camden is ignored. You’re warned not to go to Camden: "It’s a bad place, so don’t even bother."
However, we should bother, since Camden’s problems don’t end with crime: The city is also New Jersey’s most severe food desert. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food deserts as parts of the country where fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthful whole foods are largely inaccessible, and they’re usually found in impoverished areas. Camden’s population, not including undocumented citizens, is about 80,000 — but there's only one store. Cousin’s Supermarket is the only store that could be considered a supermarket, and it doesn’t offer the same variety, quantity and quality expected in suburban supermarkets. Residents are then forced to rely on the 25 corner stores or bodegas for sustenance.
Healthy eating options are scarce in Camden, and the difficulty of obtaining nutritious food leads to people relying on the alternative, which are processed food filled with fat and sugar. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, even more basic than the threat of crime and security are physiological needs, and food is a critical component to fulfilling bodily needs. Even if residents of Camden have access to junk food — if they have access to food at all — it will not help them get through the day. Too much sugar and fats are linked to immediate effects like headaches and stomachaches, but also to long-term problems of diabetes and obesity.
If people can’t have access to nutritious food, then they are limited in their capacity to improve other aspects of their lives. About 40 percent of Camden residents fall below the poverty line. A 2015 northjersey.com article says 15 percent of the city’s eligible workers can’t find jobs, and the high school graduation rate rose 11 percent from 2012, to a still problematic rate of 62 percent. These statistics are dismal, and not having quality food exacerbates the living conditions. When children can’t have healthy food, they can’t pay attention in class and end up falling behind in course material, which then prevents them from graduating. When adults don’t have the adequate energy to look for jobs or work in a job they already have, they end up adding to that unemployment rate. Food is a basic necessity, and the absence of healthy food is a factor that helps reinforce the difficult conditions for Camden residents.
To structurally address the issue, there needs to be more investment in the city. Businesses are less inclined to invest in Camden when it’s too risky and they perceive the location to fail because of the vulnerability to crime. ShopRite announced it was building a store in the area, and after it was heralded for its positive contribution for the city, it backed out and failed to execute their promises. Investment requires taking chances, and when people speak of Camden disparagingly, warning others not to go there, they're also warning owners of supermarkets not to put their business there.
As a public university, Rutgers has a responsibility to the community. Before the supermarket Key Food opened up, our very own New Brunswick was a food desert, so food scarcity is an issue close to home. Rutgers has an array of organizations that work to address problems of poverty and hunger that students can join, but not everyone has to join Rutgers Against Hunger and volunteer to help Camden and other food deserts. Helping can come in small ways and in the form of not ignoring the problem and refraining oneself from spreading rumors or negative caricatures about the city, especially when they've never been there.
The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 148th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.