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The Depressing Truth About Hipster Food Towns

Mother Jones

Hallie Bateman

Deborah Gilfillan lives between Brooklyn’s first Trader Joe’s and its flagship Whole Foods. She’s also walking distance from Union Market, a local grocery chain where flank steak sells for $15.99 per pound. But these stores are too expensive and don’t have the right ingredients for the 62-year-old contract administrator, a native Brooklynite who lives in a brownstone she bought for a song back in the 1960s. Nowadays, she usually walks or takes the bus almost a mile to shop.

In the past, if a city dweller had to journey a mile to a grocery store, it probably meant she lived in a “food desert.” The term was coined by social scientists in the 1990s to describe places bereft of ingredients needed to make a healthy meal.

In recent years, the US government has spent at least $169 million in grants and helped raise $1 billion more to try to end food deserts, by funding things like new stores and farmers markets. But as urban neighborhoods gentrify, a new kind of disparity has emerged. Many experts, including some federal researchers, stress that high local grocery prices—not simply distance—prevent lower-income households from eating well. Gilfillan finds herself not in a food desert, but rather in what some soci­ologists are now calling a food mirage. Her home is surrounded by fancy markets and restaurants, yet cheap staples are hard to come by. “You can go in there and buy 10 different lettuces,” she says. But “we grew up on pork. A lot of them don’t have it.”

In cities across America, specialty stores flock to newly hip districts while cheap supermarkets are pushed out. Since 2000, the median sale price for a home in Gilfillan’s neighborhood of Boerum Hill has increased nearly fivefold, from $250,000 in January 2000 to $1.15 million in the fall of 2016, pulling up commercial real estate with it. Met Foods, the grocery store she used to frequent, was sold in 2014 as the land under it became valuable.

The conventional approach to addressing food access is blind to these mirages. In 2010, the White House announced the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, which provides loans, grants, and tax breaks to food sellers mostly in neighborhoods that qualify as food deserts. To help identify needy areas, the government looks at whether the median income of a census tract is less than 81 percent of the median income of the greater area. But this metric doesn’t work well in gentrifying neighborhoods, where rich and poor people live crammed together.

Take Boise, an up-and-coming district in Portland, Oregon. In 2014, 15 percent of its residents lived below the federal poverty line of $11,670 for individuals or $23,850 for a family of four. But thanks to upscale stores like New Seasons (a West Coast chain similar to Whole Foods) and the district’s high median family income, it’s hard to call Boise a true food desert, even though people there have few options besides pricey retailers and corner stores stuffed with junk food. While “conventionally defined food deserts are rare in Portland,” a pair of researchers concluded in a 2013 paper, “food mirages, by contrast, cover much of the city.”

Nonprofit grocery stores might help close this gap. For example, Fare & Square, a nonprofit in Chester, Pennsylvania, relies partly on government funding to keep its prices low. But the Obama administration’s initiative mostly targeted nonprofit grocery stores in neighborhoods already deemed food deserts. Places like Boise and Boerum Hill tend to fall through the cracks.

The Department of Agriculture doesn’t seem sure what to tell people living in food mirages. Even benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly called food stamps) aren’t a great solution: They’re based on nationwide average costs, so they don’t go as far in places where specialty and niche food stores dominate the market and charge upward of $4 a gallon for milk. When I asked a SNAP spokeswoman about the problem of ignoring local food prices, she referred me to a webpage called “Healthy Eating on a Budget.” “Create a grocery game plan,” it suggests. “Rethink your food choices and pick healthier options.”

Gilfillan has a grocery game plan. She treks to Stop & Shop, a chain supermarket where she finds plenty of bargains. On her way home, she passes modern condos and farm-to-table restaurants. Although she can’t bring herself to move out of her house, her advice for her son, Dashawn, is different. “Sell it for whatever you can get,” she recalls telling him. “So long as you got the memories, you don’t need this damn house.”

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The Depressing Truth About Hipster Food Towns

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Here are some of the most unnerving things we’ve read so far in those Pruitt emails.

The protesters gathered in Boston’s Copley Square with some impressively nerdy signs, including “Scientists are wicked smaht” and “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate.”

The rally coincided with the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, held a few blocks away, but was not sponsored by the scientific organization. In fact, scientists have often been wary of participating in political demonstrations, citing the need for science to be objective and nonpartisan.

“We’re not protesting a party,” one scientist told the Boston Globe. “As scientists, we want to support truth.”

Truth, however, has increasingly become a political issue, with an administration that has denied climate change, attacked the value of the EPA, and put forward a non-evidence-based travel ban that would adversely affect many scientists and researchers in the United States. As one sign at the rally put it, “Alternative facts are the square root of negative one.” That is, imaginary.

Sunday’s rally was a warm-up act for the March for Science, which is expected to bring many thousands of scientists to Washington, D.C., on April 22, Earth Day.

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Here are some of the most unnerving things we’ve read so far in those Pruitt emails.

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Congressional climate deniers are getting called on their BS at town halls this week.

The protesters gathered in Boston’s Copley Square with some impressively nerdy signs, including “Scientists are wicked smaht” and “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate.”

The rally coincided with the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, held a few blocks away, but was not sponsored by the scientific organization. In fact, scientists have often been wary of participating in political demonstrations, citing the need for science to be objective and nonpartisan.

“We’re not protesting a party,” one scientist told the Boston Globe. “As scientists, we want to support truth.”

Truth, however, has increasingly become a political issue, with an administration that has denied climate change, attacked the value of the EPA, and put forward a non-evidence-based travel ban that would adversely affect many scientists and researchers in the United States. As one sign at the rally put it, “Alternative facts are the square root of negative one.” That is, imaginary.

Sunday’s rally was a warm-up act for the March for Science, which is expected to bring many thousands of scientists to Washington, D.C., on April 22, Earth Day.

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Congressional climate deniers are getting called on their BS at town halls this week.

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Here Comes The First Suit Challenging Trump’s "Muslim Ban"

Mother Jones

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Within hours of President Donald Trump signing his “Muslim ban” executive order Friday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations announced that it is about to file a lawsuit challenging the ban.

The order, called “Protection of the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” denies entry to the US to anyone from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen, according to CNN. The order also freezes refugee admissions for 120 days.

“There is no evidence that refugees—the most thoroughly vetted of all people entering our nation—are a threat to national security,” CAIR national litigation director Lena Masri said in a release. The group says it will announce details of the lawsuit Monday.

Demonstrators have been protesting the order ever since a draft was leaked on Wednesday.

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Here Comes The First Suit Challenging Trump’s "Muslim Ban"

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These 15 Albums Might Actually Make 2016 Tolerable

Mother Jones

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Each year, Mother Jones‘ favorite music critic browses through hundreds of new albums and pulls out maybe a couple hundred for his weekly reviews. But only a few can make the final-final cut. Below, in alphabetical order, are Jon Young’s super-quick takes on his 15 top albums for 2016. (Feel free to heartily disagree and share your own faves in the comments.)

1. William Bell, This Is Where I Live (Stax): The tender, moving return of an underrated soul great.

2. David Bowie, Blackstar (Columbia/ISO): The Thin White Duke’s eerie, haunting farewell.

3. Gaz Coombes, Matador (Hot Fruit Recordings/Kobalt Label Services): Grand, witty megapop from the former Supergrass leader. (Full review here.)

4. Bob Dylan, The 1966 Live Recordings (Columbia/Legacy): A massive compilation of every note from his notorious tour. (Full review here.)

5. Margaret Glaspy, Emotions and Math (ATO): No-nonsense relationship tales that rock out with insistent verve.

6. Hinds, Leave Me Alone (Mom + Pop/Lucky Number): Frayed, rowdy femme-punk straight outta Madrid.

7. Jennifer O’Connor, Surface Noise (Kiam): Tuneful, deadpan folk-pop with a cutting edge. (Full review here.)

8. Brigid Mae Power, Brigid Mae Power (Tompkins Square): Hair-raising solo acoustic performances by an Irish chanteuse. (Full review here.)

9. Dex Romweber, Carrboro, (Bloodshot): A colorful Americana kaleidoscope from a master balladeer and rockabilly shouter. (Full review here.)

10. Sad13, Slugger (Carpark): Sadie Dupuis’ solo debut, poppier than her band Speedy Ortiz, and exuberantly feminist.

11 & 12. The Scientists, A Place Called Bad (Numero Group); and Blonde Redhead, Masculin Feminin (Numero Group): The great Chicago reissue label scores again with retrospectives devoted to The Scientists, Australian trash-rockers from the ’70s and ’80s, and Blonde Redhead’s ’90s shoegaze-noise recordings amid the chaotic New York scene. (Full review here.)

13. Allen Toussaint, American Tunes (Nonesuch): The gorgeous final works of the New Orleans R&B genius. (And here’s our recent chat with Toussaint collaborator Aaron Neville.)

14. A Tribe Called Quest, We Got It from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service (Epic): The long-overdue return, and devastating goodbye, of a hip-hop institution.

15. Various Artists, The Microcosm: Visionary Music of Continental Europe, 1970-1986 (Light in the Attic): An eye-opening survey of vintage new age music in all its oddball, unexpected glory.

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These 15 Albums Might Actually Make 2016 Tolerable

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