There have been several creative ideas for how to solve America’s food desert problem, from packing food shops into shipping containers, to opening health-conscious corner stores, to accepting the benefits of Wal-Mart. After seeing most grocery chains refuse to set up shop in low-income New Orleans neighborhoods, actor Wendell Pierce came up with a brilliantly simple solution—starting his own grocery chain.
Pierce, a New Orleans native best known for playing cigar-smoking detective Bunk Moreland on The Wire, currently stars in Treme, a show that explores Hurricane Katrina’s impact on the Big Easy. And as Pierce has found, one of the city’s most pressing concerns is one that affects most American cities, even those not recently ravaged by hurricanes—a lack of affordable, healthy food options in low-income communities. That’s why Pierce is starting Sterling Foods, which will have locations exclusively in poor communities (no word yet on whether the store sells heart-healthy Honey Nut Cheerios).
In a sad way, the existence of food deserts makes sense—healthy food is expensive, and grocery chains have decided that there’s not much profit to be had in poor areas. Pierce, though, has adopted a sort of if-you-build-it-they-will-come philosophy, arguing that Sterling Foods will succeed because the demand exists for reasonably priced, healthy options. He told NPR earlier this year that he believes in the "classic American aesthetic of business: seeing the need, filling it."
Whether Pierce’s theory will hold up has yet to be seen, but at least he’s giving it a shot; he could have decided he was doing enough for his hometown by highlighting its struggles on TV, but he decided to go further. As the saying goes, a man must have a code, and doing everything he can to give back to his community is part of Pierce’s.
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