Sam Polk is on a mission to change that.
At The Nutrition School’s 2017 Masterclass event in Los Angeles, the founder of Everytable and non-profit organization Groceryships detailed the scope of the problem and the success he’s had so far in increasing access to healthy, affordable food.
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Polk worked on Wall Street for many years before deciding it was time to do something more meaningful. While he was figuring out his next step, he watched the documentary A Place At the Table. “The film made an argument about the connection between poverty and food issues and described these areas called food deserts where there’s very little access to fresh food and tons and tons of fast food,” he said. “So, partially as a consequence of that, rates of obesity and diabetes and heart disease are off the chart…There was this one stat that a kid born in South LA in this one neighborhood would live on average 12 years less than a kind born in Belair.”
Polk decided he was going to get better food to Americans struggling to find and afford it. Here’s how he’s doing that.
What You Need to Know About Everytable
1. Everytable is making healthy, grab-and-go meals cheaper.
Everytable’s meals are made with fresh, whole foods and packed with vegetables. They’re made in a central warehouse kitchen and packaged in grab-and-go containers before being sent to individual storefronts. “That sounds simple, but it’s the key economic insight,” Polk explained, since it allows them to open small stores that don’t include kitchens in city neighborhoods where rent and build-outs are expensive. It also allows for very few employees at each location. “Because of this we have this incredibly low cost structure that means we can offer healthy food at incredible prices,” Polk said, “but incredible prices mean different things for different people.” Which brings us to…
2. The meals are actually affordable (and convenient) for low-income families.
In South LA where Everytable opened its first shop, average family income is $13,000. “For that mom, there’s a big difference between $4, $5, $8,” Polk said. To solve for that, meals there are sold for an average of $4.50, while meals at locations in more affluent neighborhoods, like Century City, are $7–$8. The cost difference then allows the company the margins it needs to expand. “In a structurally unequal world, we wouldn’t want to price things the same,” he explained. Since it opened in July 2016, by the way, that South LA location has sold more than 175,000 meals.
3. More affluent diners can help simply by eating there.
When TNS Masterclass attendees asked what they could do to get involved, Polk laughed and said “Eat at Everytable,” but he’s got a point. Shoppers at the mall in Century City “know that every time they make a purchase it’s helping bring the same food into Watts and Compton and South LA, all the places in our city where people don’t have access.”
4. They’re democratizing healthy food.
While lots of solutions to food insecurity in low-income communities focus on getting “leftover food” to people who need it, Everytable’s solution doesn’t separate classes of people. “For us, it’s this idea that the chefs don’t know where the food is going when they’re making it,” Polk said. It could be for a family in Watts or a family in Century City, and it’s good enough for both.”
5. They’re getting at food issues that go deep.
In addition to Everytable, Polk created Groceryships, a non-profit organization that provides nutrition education, money for groceries, and support groups for women in low-income communities to talk about food issues together. While issues like access, affordability, and education are important, Polk argues, “There are even more powerful issues like the extremely high correlation between stress and depression and childhood trauma and unhealthy eating, and all of those are significantly elevated in underserved communities…What happens when you talk about food is…somebody’s going to cry. That’s not the goal of the group, but it is the power of the group.”