Written by Jonathan Aryeh Wayne, May 9, 2018
I am constantly amazed at how difficult it is to find healthy, nutritious food in the city of Pittsburgh. Though city residents have access to a number of large supermarkets such as Giant Eagle, Shop ’n Save, Aldi, and Whole Foods, I always seem to find myself going out of the way to buy real, unprocessed, nutritional food such as simple organic fruits, vegetables, and raw nuts and seeds during the Winter season and throughout the year. Just a few days ago after my biweekly physical therapy on my shoulder at the UPMC Sports Medicine Complex in Pittsburgh’s South Side, I took a walk down East Carson Street in search of a simple piece of fruit I could buy before my scheduled band practice. I had known beforehand that Giant Eagle was the only establishment in this neighborhood (and within a 1 or 2 mile radius) to buy any sort of organic produce, but I wanted to explore other options today. Throughout my journey of 8 blocks from just east of the Hot Metal Bridge to South 20th Street, I was unable to find any sort of fresh, quality produce whatsoever. This is a real life account of my experience.
My journey for nutritious food began at REI, where I begrudgingly purchased a couple of paleo nut bars with 5 grams of sugar or less. Since REI (which I’m a member of) has never sold perishable food, I soon left the store, made a right and walked up S. 27th Street. Minutes later, I strolled into the Aldi supermarket via the sliding glass doors. I walked past cartons and cases of heavily processed, chemical laden-food wrapped in pristine plastic, and in my search to find something real, I ultimately discovered something unreal. A pitiful sight was cast upon my eyes by virtue of a limited assortment of fruits and vegetables wrapped in single use plastic with the exception of a small carton of loose mangos and conventional Honeycrisp apples that appeared to have been sitting there for a few weeks, thanks to the ingenious amounts of pesticides to prolong their shelf lives. I had to pause and ask this question to myself: Do we really need a single eggplant wrapped in plastic or a handful of Granny Smith apples packaged in tennis ball-looking plastic containers? The amount of waste and energy put into packaging fruits and vegetables can only mean one thing: We need to stop requesting and relying on big box stores for our needs and start creating and participating in more local co-ops that offer real nutritional food so people stop getting sick and instead lead healthier and happier lives.
I walked out of the Aldi supermarket frustrated and disenchanted, bolting for the exits. Not only could I not buy a single organic fruit but I couldn’t find a single glass bottle of sparkling water or spring water either. Growing dehydrated, I walked west down Carson Street, holding my breath at times as dirty fumes blasted me in the face from massive tractor trailer trucks and buses. I saw a great number of people smoking cigarettes and I did my best to avoid the plumes of toxic smoke outside in front of the bars. I spitted on the street, growing more agitated and exhausted. I walked into Buddy’s Brews on Carson, recalling that out of the thousands of different beers available in bottles and cans, they actually sold one single variety of sparkling water from the “SmartWater” company. I walked to the small cooler and discouragingly was greeted with bottles of Coca Cola and other poisonous soft drinks, as I noticed their bottled water was no longer in stock. I had only walked into this beer distributor two or three times in the past before my band practice exclusively to purchase this sparkling water, and even one time I had to walk out as soon as I noticed a line of about 15 to 20 people clutching big cases of beer in their arms as a single cashier was working at the time. I left and was frustrated once again, unable to buy a bottle of water, as I was kicking myself for not only forgetting my personal water bottle but not going to the CoGo’s back on 24th Street. I finally made it to the Rite Aid further down Carson near 19th St. and bought a couple of Evian waters for $4. I quickly walked back towards 22nd Street to make my way to STORExpress for band practice.
I believe that eating nutritiously is not only challenging but near impossible when you’re living on or near East Carson Street, one of the most toxic streets in the world for health-conscious people. Though the South Side Flats are not considered a “food desert” because of Giant Eagle and Aldi, there are no other options of buying raw fruits and vegetables anywhere in the neighborhood. East Carson Street is home to over a hundred bars serving the finest beers and whiskey to multitudes of both social drinkers and alcoholics while hundreds of restaurants serve up all sorts of carcinogenic and high caloric, artery-clogging meals. Yet for people just searching for simple organic produce provided by mother nature herself, you’re out of luck around here.
As I quickened my pace, zigzagging my way along the filthy streets of the South Side, dodging angry motorists with road rage, I repeatedly threw one of my plastic bottles of Evian water high up into the air while catching it with my right hand. I did not give a damn about how I looked or what I was doing in that moment. The chaos of speeding cars and noisy machines surrounded me, the air reaked of pollution as I inadvertently breathed in diesel fumes, I hadn’t heard a single bird chirp in hours, I felt the stress of the trees as their roots were suffocated by heavy concrete, I stepped on garbage and probably dried out dog shit and the bones of deceased birds, I saw the discontent and pain on people’s faces as they stood outside the bars puffing one more cigarette towards lung disease, I was harassed and solicited by homeless people and motorists as I avoided confrontations with these sick souls, I heard the deafening sirens of police cars and ambulances racing past me, and all of this time I was looking forward to band practice and working on some new songs despite all of these inconveniences and obstacles in my path.
Is it an inconvenience to be stressed? Is it an inconvenience to breathe clean air? Is it an inconvenience to drink or bathe in uncontaminated water? Is it an inconvenience to buy organic fruits and vegetables? It seems to me that all of these things and more are an inconvenience in a nation bursting at the seams with wealth and opportunity. Yet, Science is the enemy of Capitalism, because truth and justice are inconveniences when it comes to producing profits. Thus, Science is forged and recreated to protect the corporations and powers that be. The people here in the USA will continue to mindlessly accept the deceptive freedoms they think they’ve gained because they are surrounded by and saturated in so much “prosperity”. The only problem is, this prosperity is toxic to us and the planet, and our attachments have led to our suffering, disguised as an escape from reality through drunkenness and immorality that’s all too apparent here on the streets of the South Side.