Many Memphis residents do not have access to fresh food. But they have gas stations galore, with convenience stores rather than grocery stores.
Memphis, Tennessee—despite being smaller than Nashville—has 10 times more gas stations than the country-music mecca. In part, this is because during the last 30 years, the Memphis City Council has allowed unfettered growth of gas stations, largely in low-income communities that lack grocery stores. In these areas, gas stations sometimes serve as the only stores with food, “albeit ones offering unhealthy fast and convenience foods,” writes Tennessee Lookout’s Dulce Torres Guzman. Back in March, the Memphis City Council voted to halt the permitting of any new gas stations. But last month, its members debated the opening of yet another gas station—even after hundreds of local residents signed a petition against it. “We do not want nor need a gas station at this site. That would make four gas stations within a mile radius,” said one resident. While the language we use to describe the dearth of healthy food options in certain communities is changing—the term “food desert” has recently fallen into disfavor, for example—an important fact remains: Low-income communities of color disproportionately experience limited access to healthy and affordable food. As The Memphis Flyer put it in 2018, low-income families in the majority-Black city “struggle to find and afford healthy food, children rely on school-provided meals, and parents have to make trade-offs between basic needs and adequate food.”