Checkers should take plans for up to 40 Oakland outposts off the menu

Featured in the San Francisco Business Times

March 18th, 2016



It is no secret that obesity and its negative health effects, like high blood pressure and heart disease, have reached crisis proportions throughout the United States, where more than one-third of U.S. adults, and one-in-five children are obese. What’s more alarming is that low-income communities, like East and West Oakland, have rates of obesity that are disproportionately higher than national figures. One 2012 study found that nearly half of Oakland and Richmond students were overweight or obese.



The seriousness of obesity is often overlooked by those who do not understand its connection to a long and healthy life. According to the Centers for Disease Control obesity is associated with the leading causes of death in the U.S. and worldwide, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer. To make matters worse, forty-seven percent of Alameda County’s low-income residents are food insecure, meaning they don’t have access – whether due to price or availability - to the healthy food they need. 


When you consider statistics like these, it is highly disturbing that a new burger chain would announce plans to open forty new fast food restaurants in Oakland. According to a March 02 article, Checkers, a Florida-based company, has set its sights on Oakland. The director of franchise development from Checkers, Robert Bhagwandat, thinks he knows what is best for Oakland’s residents. "…[T]hey like to have quality food at an affordable price," he said of local consumers. While Bhagwandat, based in Atlanta, Georgia, is certainly right about the need for quality and affordable food, Checkers is not the answer to the problem…it’s another setback. 


With a menu that offers burgers, hot dogs, wings, and fries, Checkers hardly qualifies as ‘quality food.’ These foods have been proven to cause high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even cancer. This is not the type of food that is needed in our communities. In West Oakland, for example, Mandela Foods Cooperative is the only full-service grocery store in the community. It opened in 2009, to counter the over 50 fast food restaurants and convenience stores.


In Alameda County, there are nearly five times as many fast food restaurants and convenience stores than supermarkets and produce vendors; and many residents in East and West Oakland must rely on convenience stores with a limited selection to access healthy foods and fresh produce. Other research found that one hundred percent of the corner stores in West Oakland sold unhealthy snack foods while only a fraction sold some type of fruit or vegetable.


The good news is that progress is being made. For more than a decade, community groups and organizations have been working tirelessly to improve the health of Oakland residents. Mandela MarketPlace alone has made over 641,000 pounds of produce available in food insecure communities through multiple programs, including a network of corner stores that do carry produce and community produce stands. In addition to food access, Mandela MarketPlace has generated over $5 Million in new local revenue by supporting and launching community-owned businesses, unlike Florida-based Checkers which will pull money from the local economy and send it to the east coast.


After recently partnering with the Oakland Housing Authority and Alameda Health System, the West Oakland communities now have increased access to affordable and locally-sourced fruits and vegetables through regular produce stands that serve low-income seniors and families, and provide a 50% bonus on fruits, vegetables and nuts.  These are just a few of the things being done to change the food environment in the underserved parts of the city.


Food insecurity and poor health indicators can be attributed to distressed communities that are deeply affected by economic poverty and social inequality. These communities need more opportunities to purchase healthy affordable food; not the greasy and fried foods found on menus of fast food chains like Checkers.


Oakland residents don’t need another fast food chain – they need more investment and support to open, own, and support existing healthy local food businesses. .


Dana Harvey is the Executive Director of Mandela MarketPlace.