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Is Convenient and Healthy Possible?

Julie Grant

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(Julie Grant)
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One great thing about shopping at big supermarkets is free samples.

Another initiative to improve food at convenience stores:
(Urban Nutrition Initiative)

Right now, Matt Russell and Robin Blair dispense free frittata samples outside a convenience store in a rough part of Cleveland's West Side.

Many houses in this neighborhood are boarded up or demolished. The convenience store is actually called Convenient Food Mart. People here seem surprised by the offers of free food.

Blair is a a chef. She talks up the frittata's juicy tomatoes, peppers, onions and potatoes, explaining that all the ingredients are sold at the food mart and offers up the recipe.

"You know, I'm going to get my roommate. He's a little overweight," one man says. "He's started eating healthier. I'm going to go get him and come back down."

Convenient Food Mart is on a busy road. It sits across the street from a tavern and a liquor store.

Vietta Perry and her four kids live around the corner. It's difficult for her to drag the whole family 15 blocks to the discount grocery store.

"They take my food stamp card here, and this is where I go," Perry says, trying to get her six-year-old daughter to try the veggie frittata.

Perry says her kids would eat healthy food, but there are so many temptations for them at the corner store.

The interior of the Conveninece Food Mart resembles that of most convenience stores: there are cups for a soda machine, a cooler full of beer and cartons of cigarettes behind the counter.

It's well-lit, however, and stocked with a variety of products like regular and wheat pasta, canned tomatoes and wilted produce in the fridge.

Ericka Abrams works with Cleveland's Corner Store Project, an organization that tries to get places like the Convenience Food Mart to offer healthier foods to their patrons.

"He's got hummus," Abrams says. "How awesome is that? When do you see hummus in a corner convenience store?"

Owner Faris Alameh from Lebanon has owned the store for 18 years. He raised his children in this neighborhood---and in his store.

"We live here seven days a week, 14 hours a day," Alameh says. "It's like our other house. And my customers are like my other family. We see them every day."

Alameh says he would like to offer an even healthier selection, but doesn't know what else to stock. He'd like to sell fresh fruits and veggies--even locally grown produce, but can't afford to have food rotting on the shelves.

That's where the Corner Store Project comes in; to show people how to make delicious, simple dishes---like frittata---with food purchased from Alameh's store.

But customer Vietta Perry has a more urgent need.

"I just told him he needs to get me some Cinnamon Toast Crunch," Perry says. "They got all of this WIC cereal in there, and my kids won't eat that stuff."

The folks from The Corner Store Project understand the difficulties in getting people to make healthy choices. They offer Perry free cooking and nutrition classes.

Two hours after the demo outside the Convenient Food Mart began, store owner Faris Alameh and The Corner Store Project's Matt Russell dream of bigger things than free frittata samples.

"Do a small farmers market here," Russell suggests.
"Yeah, that'd be a good idea," Alameh replies.
"With the local food being grown."
"If it works out we could do it five days a week.
"We'll work together," Russell says.
"As a team." Alameh agrees.


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    By Laura McShane

    From Cleveland, OH, 08/23/2008

    At first glance this is a feel good story, but tone of the article is patronizing and the reporting extremely inaccurate--examples: there is no liquor store across the street, the owner does not live in the neighborhood, the neighborhood is misidentified...the neighborhood should not be characterized by board-ups and demolitions. Frankly, I expect better from public radio. Shame on your reporters for calling in a shoddy story.

    By Lauren Melnick

    From Cleveland, OH, 08/19/2008

    I just wanted to share that the free classes that are offered through The Ohio State University Extension are nutrition education classes, but we do teach certain food preparation principles. We also do periodic food demonstrations within the classes. Our Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) serves limited-resource families in Cuyahoga County. In addition to her role as a professional chef, Robin Blair is also one of our awesome nutrition educators. For information about the classes, please call 216-429-8229. Thank You!

    By Don Quine

    From Santa Monica, CA, 08/17/2008

    Was listening to Julie Grant today in LA at about 2:45pm and she and another guy were discussing a small bar-like dinner called Halibut where a cook named Dave deep fries salmon. Tried to Google the diner but nothing came up. Is it possible to get an address or phone numebr for Halibut? Love your show. Don

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