While some storeowners are enthusiastic about the opportunities the Initiative can bring (Dugeidy Ortiz, an outreach coordinator, spoke of one Harlem bodega owner who revamped his store and lost 20 pounds), others are doubtful. In particular, many do not think their customers are interested in nutrition. "Over here, they don't eat healthy food," said Roberto Suero, who works at an East Harlem bodega with a Greenmarket fridge. "They try, some people, but normally, it's just regular junk food."
Dr. Robert Fullilove, a professor at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, believes the skeptical bodega owners have a point. "Thinking from the libertarian point of view, I don't know that bodega owners can be faulted for meeting a public demand [for unhealthy food]," he said. "And it's not as if the stereotype is wrong, especially when the bodega owners see that when they stock [unhealthy food], it gets purchased."
In addition to increasing supply of healthy food, Fullilove believes groups should develop public education campaigns to increase demand for nutritious food in at-risk neighborhoods. The Healthy Bodegas Initiative has undertaken this to an extent, in the form of cooking demonstrations and informative posters. Greenmarket has also tried to bring chefs into Harlem bodegas.
Though individual actions have met with success, they are, according to Baronberg, easily dwarfed by multinational beverage and snack companies. "We put up healthy ads in the windows, and the next day we come back and they've been replaced," she said. "We just don't have the manpower or finances to compete with that. A bodega is just a small player in this very large issue of unhealthy foods being heavily marketed and being less expensive."
To combat the affordability issue, the Healthy Bodega Initiative and Greenmarket both offer programs to reduce the cost of healthy food. For instance, they only work with bodegas that accept food stamps and EBT. In addition, the Healthy Bodega Initiative offers Health Bucks to food stamp users to subsidize produce in farmers' markets.
They have also tried to make healthy eating as affordable as possible. Greenmarket's juices are comparable in price to other drinks, and the Healthy Bodega Initiative's "healthy sandwich combos" cost the same as unhealthy sandwiches.
Only time will tell whether these efforts will improve communities' health. Until then, Baronberg, Hurwitz, and others cling to the belief that people across New York City -- regardless of location or socioeconomic status -- want their families to eat well and lead healthy lives. They just need a food environment that makes it possible to do so.