Will there be an end to nutrition insecurity in the Midtown community?

By Olivia Sawdy

Food and nutrition insecurities have been going on in Midtown in St. Petersburg for thousands of days. 

In 2017, Walmart decided to close its Neighborhood Market in St. Petersburg, Midtown neighborhood causing the town to no longer have a grocery store in a convenient location. 

Since the only grocery store in Midtown closed, food and nutrition insecurity began to spread in the community once again. 

Many people living in this area have a low income and do not have the resources to drive to a distant grocery store or even afford what it would take to get to those grocery stores. 

Of course, there are dollar stores and gas stations in the area that can help compensate for some of the food insecurity, but the majority of the food that you can find at dollar stores and gas stations is junk food and snacks. 

With that being said, what is more of a concern for this community is the amount of nutrition they are receiving. They have few resources to obtain food, but when it comes to being healthy and eating nutritious meals, the community struggles. 

Wendy Wesley, a clinical dietitian, describes Midtown as being more “nutrition insecure” rather than “food insecure.”

“Nutrition insecurity is meeting the nutrition needs of our city with unprocessed fresh produce, meats and dairy,” Wesley said. 

About three months ago, Wesley served as a panelist for Churches United for Healthy Congregations and explained the differences between “nutrition insecurity” and “food insecurity.” 

“The other members on the panel agreed that the community is only being treated for hunger rather than their overall health,” Wesley said. 

While there are Dollar Tree stores and gas stations in Midtown, much of what the community can find is processed food that is not necessarily good for its health. 

With that being said, although not ideal, there are some options in the Dollar Tree that can be a healthier substitute to much of the junk food that is offered there. 

At the Dollar Tree, you can find canned and frozen fruits and vegetables, frozen chicken and fish, pasta, eggs, fruit juice, peanut butter and trail mixes. 

It has been over 1,000 days since this community has had a grocery store available to them, so they have to work with the resources they have. 

Meals can be made from the food in the Dollar Tree. They can be somewhat healthy and give the community some the nutrition they are striving for. 

There are recipes on the website that can be followed and everything in the recipes can be purchased in the Dollar Tree. 

They have recipes for main dishes, appetizers and dips, breakfast and more. 

One meal that can be found at the Dollar Tree is spaghetti and meatballs. Everything needed for this meal can be found in the Dollar Tree and is very easy to make. 

All that is needed is some kind of noodles, pasta sauce and frozen meatballs. This meal has carbs from the pasta, vegetables from the pasta sauce and protein from the meatballs. A side of broccoli or other vegetable can also be added to this meal. 

A healthy snack from the Dollar Tree can be rice cakes with peanut butter. It is 70 calories per rice cake and 90 calories per tablespoon of peanut butter. This snack is also very filling.

The nutrition insecurity that the community is experiencing can cause health problems such as diabetes, cardiac disease and even kidney failure. 

With the pandemic still in full force, it is very hard for those in this community to get what they need and with other underlying conditions, can be dangerous for them to risk going out to get their essentials. 

COVID-19 has impacted everyone and for a community that is already low income and has so many unavailable resources the pandemic has not made things any easier. 

“To work on improving nutrition insecurity in St. Petersburg, a group of concerned citizens and I have formed a new coalition called “Nutrition Equity St. Pete” where we will take one nutrition-related issue at a time and provide education, build support and create opportunities for activism,” Wesley said. 

As a dietitian, Wesley hears many stories from clients about not being able to lead a healthy lifestyle because of their need for nutrition rather than just having food. 

“I introduced myself to him as his dietitian. I reviewed all of the foods he should be eating and what he should be avoiding. He let me know that he knows how he should be eating but the food does not exist in his neighborhood,” Wesley said. 

This is not the only time Wesley has had encounters like this. 

Wesley has been a very strong advocate for getting a grocery store back into Midtown so those living there can keep up with their health and well-being. 

The plaza where Walmart and Sweetbay once sat had been empty since 2017. 

The city reports that a developer with a grocery store tenant will come in later this year. This will be an amazing opportunity for those who need to get their nutrition back on track.