Food Access in the City of Bridges

Three months ago, I packed up my Grand Prix with all of my possessions, left Michigan, and started driving east. What first struck me was the view. Driving into Pittsburgh on 376-E takes you through the Fort Pitt Tunnel. As soon as you leave the tunnel, the beauty of the city strikes you — you’re dumped out onto the Fort Pitt Bridge, headed directly for downtown; sunlight reflects off PPG Place buildings, and all is right with the world. To your right is the Monongahela River and Smithfield Street Bridge. To your left is the Point Park fountain and the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, from which the Ohio is born. Pittsburgh truly is a beautiful city, textured by three magnificent rivers, 90 distinct neighborhoods, 446 bridges, and all the hills and ridges characteristic of Appalachia.

I live in a neighborhood called Sheraden. It’s an area in the western end of the city with a small community garden, a few corner stores, a library, a few public schools, and one bus line that runs throughout. It is mostly residential. If you want to buy groceries in Sheraden, you only have a few choices: walking to the neighborhood Family Dollar, driving to the Aldi in nearby McKees Rocks, or taking the 26 bus to the Crafton-Ingram Giant Eagle (which requires a $5.00 bus fare and a whole lot of patience). From my house, right in the center of Sheraden, Aldi and Family Dollar are each one mile away and Giant Eagle is two miles away. Although not far in geometric distance, getting to these limited grocery options can present a challenge.

Many of Pittsburgh’s communities, being isolated and having few transportation options, lack food access. The USDA’s Food Access Research Atlas classifies Sheraden as not being a food desert because it’s less than a mile away from Aldi (which has been open for only eight years). Food deserts, as the USDA defines them, are areas which do not have a grocery store within one mile in an urban area or 10 miles in a rural area. Conversations surrounding food access are about much more than physical distance, or the traditional model of food deserts — food access implies that food is affordable, culturally appropriate, and easy to get to.

Food access is a complex issue in Pittsburgh, but there are solutions. Just Harvest, a local nonprofit and advocacy organization, helps low-income Pittsburghers register for SNAP benefits, and then use those SNAP dollars at farmer’s markets. The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank has a multitude of programs, one of the highlights being Produce to People, where community members can receive 30-50 pounds of food, mostly fresh produce. A large network of local food pantries serve specific neighborhoods throughout the county. And to help get you there, persons with disabilities can ride the bus at a reduced fare.

In my service as a Care Coordinator with UPMC Children’s Hospital, I’ve engaged with a multitude of food access solutions. I’ve volunteered at food pantries, used SNAP dollars to buy vegetables at farmer’s markets, discussed healthcare services at food distributions, and talked about food justice while sharing a Shabbat meal. All of these experiences have led me to a greater understanding of food security, food access, and food justice; it reinforces the idea that every person deserves to eat well, often, and with enjoyment.


This post was written by NPHC member Tevin Monroe

Tevin serves at UPMC Children's Adolescent Medicine as a Care Coordinator.