The differences between the rich and poor neighborhoods of cities have consequences, from life expectancy to the academic results of their inhabitants. A gap that also affects the distribution of food establishments. A series of studies by the Institut d’Estudis Regionals i Metropolitans de Barcelona (IERMB) shows how stores of organic and fresh products are much more abundant in affluent areas than in underprivileged ones. In addition, it highlights how the ‘fast food’ skyrockets in the most tourist districts.
The map of income inequality by postal code: 200,000 euros separate the richest neighborhood from the poorest
“The socioeconomic level is linked to the diversity of the offer. There is a negative relationship between access to healthy elements and the percentage of the population at risk of poverty,” warns Marta Garcia-Sierra, author of the reports together with Elena Domene, both specialized in urban sustainability. The works have been presented within the framework of the world capital of Sustainable Food that Barcelona holds in 2021.
In the first place, one of the most outstanding data detected by the research is that the supply of organic products has shot up 38% in the last three years in the Catalan capital. From 437 establishments it has gone to 605, 10% of the total offer, which includes not only greengrocers and organic greengrocers, those that best fit with the imaginary of this type of commerce, but also supermarkets that have included these fresh and organic –Not necessarily exclusively–, markets, consumer cooperatives and urban gardens.
The problem is that its distribution is very uneven in the city. To a large extent it is due, according to the researchers, to the fact that these products are more expensive and less accessible for low-income households. “There is an exclusion factor in access to these foods,” confirmed Garcia-Sierra.
By districts, those with the most stores with these foods are Les Corts, where they account for 16% of the total, and Gràcia, with 14%. Both among those with the highest average income in the city. The following are Sarrià-Sant Gervasi and Sant Andreu. At the tail end, and by far, is the most impoverished district, which is in turn the most crowded in terms of tourism: Ciutat Vella. It only has 36 stores of this type, 4% of the total offer.
Although the relationship is clear, the study authors also warned that there are cases of low-income neighborhoods that, thanks to the weight of their associative fabric, have more consumer cooperatives. “This is the case of Prosperitat and Poble-sec”, has given Elena Domene as an example.
In the same report, IERMB researchers have tried to identify the existence of what are known as “food deserts”, which refers to those urban areas that are too far from any establishment to buy food. In the Metropolitan Area of Barcelona, it is estimated that 94% of the population lives less than a kilometer from a supermarket. But only 1% is in areas with accesses considered “deficient”, which in the Catalan capital affects almost exclusively several thousand residents in the Torre Baró neighborhood.
The ‘fast food’, for tourists and the poor
The report ‘Salut i qualitat dels entorns alimentais a Barcelona (European PASTA city)’, also from the IERMB, classifies the entire food offer of the city into 20 categories. Of those, 14 are considered healthy to varying degrees, ranging from coffee shops and bakeries to fishmongers and fruit and vegetable markets. On the other hand, as unhealthy, the large fast food chains are included, which are the worst in this index, as well as other types of takeaway food places –pizzerias, hamburgers, kebabs–, kiosks, ice cream parlors or candy stores.
The distribution of these premises according to each neighborhood is very uneven, although here not only the income factor influences, but also the fact of being in the center or the periphery, or being more or less touristy. “In Barcelona there are offers of all kinds everywhere”, Garcia-Sierra warns, “but in the perfieria, with some exceptions, they have less quality offer than in the more central neighborhoods”. “This fact agrees with the findings of other studies that indicate that neighborhoods with a lower socioeconomic level and peripheral or rural neighborhoods, the healthy food supply is more scarce,” says the study.
Regarding poor quality food, its greatest proliferation has to do, however, with the fact that it is a tourist area, where there is much more demand for take away. These low and very low quality establishments are concentrated in the Ciutat Vella and Eixample districts, as well as the most visited areas of Sants-Montjuïc and the Gracia neighborhood.