It isn’t easy to have a well balanced diet when you live in the South End of Saint John. It’s not impossible, just not easy. Since I have the luxury of owning a car, I usually drive to get groceries. But last Saturday I decided to do what many of my neighbours do every week – I walked to Giant Tiger.
Giant Tiger is many people’s answer to issues of food security. After all they sell frozen meat, dairy, fresh fruit & vegetables, dry goods, as well as clothes and toys and giant packs of batteries. Giant Tiger is the closest thing we have to a grocery store in the downtown area of Saint John (Uptown for the locals). The city market is wonderful, but not always affordable and our vast array of convenience stores just don’t have the produce or the pricing to make them viable options (though they are many people’s main food source).
So I grabbed my reusable grocery bags, tied my 5 year old’s shoes, and off we went. It took about 10 minutes to get there. After walking through the clothes and being distracted by some toys, we finally make it to the groceries. The fresh produce was very reasonably priced ($2.79 for 4 red and orange peppers, 88 cents for a cucumber) but there really wasn’t much variety. Eggs were more expensive than other stores and the dry goods were priced about the same. The fruit was on its way out. Only the grapes would last more than a day and I just couldn’t trust the meat which was in big open deep freezers. People tell me they’ve grown up on meat from Giant Tiger and never gotten sick, so maybe I’m just being over sensitive. There was no fresh meat available.
I got out the door, meatless, but having only spent $41. But then there was the walk home. With my backpack filled and my reusable grocery bag slung over my shoulder, things quickly got heavy. It would be a struggle to make the trek with younger children or if I wasn’t healthy or if I lived further away.
The reality is that getting food without owning a car is not an easy task. It takes more time and energy and would require more frequent visits. There are those who take the bus to a bigger grocery store (costing $2.75) then take a taxi home (costing a minimum of $9). This reduces the amount of money that can be spent on food. Other options are to rely on friends with cars, access the food bank, or just go without fresh produce.
The Food Basket which is our local Food Bank serves about 600 individuals and families a month. When they changed locations (they are now close to Giant Tiger and up the hill from many South End residents) they recognized the need for easier ways of transporting groceries. They now sell grocery caddies for $3 (they’re $20 at Giant Tiger). It’s a help, but not a solution.
Another help is the monthly Food Purchasing Club offered through the Community Health Centre. The Food Purchasing Club offers one reusable bag full of fresh produce for $15 or 2 bags for $25. You don’t know ahead of time what will come in the order, but there is always a good variety. These orders have to be paid for a week ahead, but they can be delivered right to your door if you are unable to pick them up.
This week I drove to the brand new Sobeys that opened up on the East side of the city. The store is huge (at least 4 times the size of Giant Tiger). The selection seems endless. My heart warmed at the availability of locally grown produce. I bought some fresh lean meat. I saw friends there. I even passed a nutrition course with people sitting at nicely set tables as they listened to 2 chefs instruct them. I felt so very elite, so middle class and I kept thinking how nice it would be if everyone had access to this. But for those without transportation the new Sobeys may as well have a $12 entrance fee.
By Jasmine Chandra