Food Systems for Health

Bringing Better Food to Baltimore’s Corner Stores

October 17, 2023

Baltimore has over 600 corner stores scattered across its historic streets, but many fail to stock healthy foods, compelling residents to travel long distances to access them or, more often than not, settle for less healthy alternatives.

In 2018, Professor Joel Gittelsohn, Professor Tak Igusa, and their team began a partnership with the Baltimore City Department of Planning, its Food Policy Director, Holly Freishtat, and its’ resident food equity advisors to develop policies and programs to improve the food environment in Baltimore City.  

The collaboration had four goals:  

  1. Support the city’s plans to improve the 600+ corner stores in Baltimore 

  1. Develop a model to simulate the impact of a Staple Foods Ordinance in Baltimore City which would require all retail food stores to stock a certain array and depth of healthy food 

  1. Develop instruments to evaluate and help prepare for disaster planning 

  1. Make the research on improving the Baltimore food environment more accessible to elected officials and the public 

Together, the partners devised recommendations for enhancing corner stores in the city. They also crafted a model to simulate the potential effects of a Staple Foods Ordinance on food options and financial outcomes. This model illustrates the consequences of varying levels of enforcement, outreach to store owners, consumer promotions, and the minimum stock requirements under the WIC rules, providing valuable insights on how to optimize profitability and sustainability if more corner stores are encouraged to accept WIC. 

Additionally, the team developed a useful evaluation form for the Meals Ready to Eat and Humanitarian Daily Rations meal programs based on taste-tests with JHU team members and community members.  Finally, the team created an infographic summarizing academic publications which discuss how to improve the Baltimore food environment. 

The systems dynamic modeling work was published in "Nutrients” in 2021 and was presented in the form of a poster and an oral presentation at the Healthy Eating Research Conference in Detroit, Michigan in March 2019. Dr. Gittelsohn currently leads grants to improve the food environment in Baltimore by working with independently owned restaurants, retail food stores, and food pantries. 

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