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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Wednesday, July 24

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« Bon Appetit: Chicago Bacon, Belly of the Gods »

Feature Fri Apr 11 2008

Big Bodega Love

One of the major perks of living in a big city is 24-7-365 access to any type of food imaginable. Crave Korean barbecue at 4:30 a.m.? Pizza for breakfast (and not the same pie that sat on your coffee table all night)? Chilean sea bass after a night of debauchery? You want it, you got it.

Yet, despite Chicago's ubiquitous dine-in and take-out options, fresh food – you know, the foods your Mom made you eat before you could leave the table – can be scarce. Research shows at least two dozen Chicago neighborhoods are "food deserts" lacking access to groceries of any kind, much less fruits and vegetables. The ramifications for residents of those communities are disturbing, including higher risks of diabetes, cancer, heart disease and even death.

Ariel Diamond and Arline Welty were faced with these daunting statistics – and challenges to overcoming food deserts, including the rising cost of groceries – when they decided to take on what they perceived to be a dearth of fresh food available in their neighborhood, Uptown. The two friends – both members of the Chicago advisory board of Neighbors Project – started taking regular walks around their neighborhood to find out if local corner stores, also known as bodegas, would be willing to carry more fruits and veggies.

What they found surprised them: dozens of bodegas, and even many liquor stores, already carry a limited selection of produce, from your basic banana to more exotic stuff, such as yucca. However, most store owners expressed a reluctance to stock more fruits and vegetables in part because they spoil faster – and don't turn over as quickly – as, say, a pack of cigarettes. In other words, not enough people were shopping at their local corner stores for produce, or other basic foods.

Ariel and Arline liked what they were eating from the corner stores, and decided they wanted to help promote bodega love, community well being, and fresh foods. So they put their heads together with folks at Chicago nonprofit Inspiration Corporation, and national nonprofit Share Our Strength, to come up with "Cook Local: a Cooking Class for Uptown, by Uptown." The April 25th class will teach Uptown families how to prepare healthy recipes using foods available at local corner stores in Uptown. Ariel and Arline hope the class will help fellow Uptown residents save money on their grocery bills and avoid unhealthy fast food by shopping at neighborhood corner stores when it's time to put dinner on the table.

If this sounds like something you'd like to do in your own neighborhood, get in touch with Ariel and Arline by e-mailing; they'll walk you through the process.

If hosting a cooking class isn't for you, stay tuned this summer, when Neighbors Project will unveil the "Bodega Party in a Box," filled with everything you need to throw a dinner party using only ingredients from your local corner store. Sign up for updates by visiting Neighbors Project's Web site and subscribing to the e-newsletter.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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