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Why Does Soda Cost Less Than Water at the Corner Store? A City Club Panel Discussion

On Wednesday, June 12, our first event was a panel discussion at the City Club that focused on the question, "Why Does Soda Cost Less Than Water at the Corner Store?"

Upon arrival, we spoke to Dr. Elizabeth A. Lehfelt, Ph.D., Dean and Mandel Professor in Humanities at the Jack, Joseph, & Morton Mandel Honors College at Cleveland State University, who told us that the program we would be attending was put together, with the collaboration of the City Club, by students from the Mandel Honors College, along with those from Jack, Joseph, & Morton Humanities Center at Cuyahoga Community College. From Mr. Dan Moulthrop, CEO of the City Club, we learned that it was the first college-level symposium in the City Club's history.


Accordingly, the discussion was moderated by Mr. Kevin Jones, Scholar at the Humanities Center, and featured, as panelists:

The introduction was given by Mr. Patrick Arthofer, an international student from Austria now studying at the Humanities Center, who said that the question posed "speaks to a set of issues about economics, community health, and public policy, and it seems to suggest some unsavory truths about our society. These places in which unhealthy food options are more accessible than healthy options have come to be known as food deserts, and while that metaphor helps helps us understand the absence of healthy food options, it suggests that some sort of natural process is the cause, and that is far from the case, as our panelists today will no doubt discuss. In fact, healthy food deserts developed in areas where the investment interest of both the government and private companies was not high enough."


According to Mr. Arthofer, healthy food deserts are present all over the United States, even close to where we eat lunch today, in Cleveland neighborhoods such as Central and Hough. Places like this always seem to consist of corner stores and fast food restaurants that offer a quick snack for a small price with little or no lasting benefit. These circumstances raise questions about the reasons and the impact of low-quality diets on people and our society. We encourage everyone today to play with the thought of possible solutions which have a positive impact on our society.

Thus, in the course of the discussion, following are a few of the points that were made:

  1. The eating of healthy food is a major contributor to good health and when one is healthy, one has a better outlook on life and is better able to fend for himself/herself as well as his/her community. Issues pertaining to the obtaining of healthy foods include education (as to what is healthy and what isn't), cost, and accessibility. It is very important that this matter and others pertaining to the low-income communities be addressed at this time in order to pave the way for a positive future; otherwise problems will continue to grow and costs will be greater.
  2. Outreach programs are currently underway to urge store owners and/or managers to include healthy foods as options. Sometimes the owner/manager is cooperative and other times not so much. In the case of the latter, citizens are urged not to frequent that store. A concurrent situation is that many times the owners do not live in the community and thus cannot appreciate the stressful conditions that are prevalent; accordingly it has been suggested to these owners that it would be to their advantage to spend time in the locales of their businesses to understand the dietary, economic and social needs of the residents.
  3. A story was told about an store owner who immigrated to the United States from an oppressed country. He/she was at first insensitive to what was taking place in the community where his business was located and the food choices he was offering until he was reminded of his own background and then his attitude changed. This is not unusual, the panelists had all worked with those from well-to-do prosperous backgrounds who really want to make a positive contribution and are doing their best to do so. This underlines the importance of "bridges" being built between communities of all income levels.  
  4. Efforts are underway to give local residents the opportunity to invest in economic projects taking place in their neighborhoods. This contributes to a sense of community pride and heightens resolve to improve conditions. Relatedly, a key word is "mindset" because people need to believe that they can improve their lives and their neighborhoods and the powerful  need to believe that things can improve so that they will invest their time, effort, dollars, and good will.

We ate lunch with Ms. Briana McIntosh, Community Health Engagement Coordinator, who works with Ms. Thornton Matos at Case Western Reserve University on the Healthy Neighborhoods project. We were glad to hear that they work closely with Asia, Inc., which assists immigrants and refugees, and that more outreach is planned for Hispanic neighborhoods on the west side of Cleveland. 

On our way home we stopped at a convenience store for a cold drink but, after attending the City Club program, were reluctant to choose a soda. Instead we chose a low-calorie, gluten- and caffeine-free peach/mango drink with no color from artificial sources. What's more, we found it to be just as refreshing—if not more so—than a soda.


Michael Patterson

Community Liaison

Margaret W. Wong & Associates LLC


Aimee Jannsohn