Hawkers, Peddlers, and the Food Desert

Financial Justice Ideas and Issues Personal Writings

Atlanta        Following the halla bol in India earlier this week where hawkers, peddlers and smaller traders have joined with India FDI Watch Campaign to force more accountability from large big box corporate retail in that country, it may all seem very quaint to read and very “developing nation.”  Many readers must sigh and think, “Surely, they know this is hopeless?”  

    Often people are surprised we have gone on so long and fought the huge multi-nationals, including Wal-Mart, Tesco, and Carrefour, to a draw in India thus far.  Even some observers in India have argued that they want to “embrace modernization” and have the kind of access, particularly for the middle class, that all of these big box shopping opportunities present.

    Maybe, just maybe all of you are wrong though?  I will cite as evidence not the multi-faceted culture and exotic flavors of Delhi or Mumbai, but the experience of the premier city of the world that defines cosmopolitanism and modernity:  New York City!  Furthermore, as witnesses to the rightness of our cause, I will cite none other than the high profile, billionaire Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg.  As the coup de grace for good measure, let me mention that the fine New York City Department of Health wants to be on my team as well.    

    While some forces in India are trying to eliminate hawkers, peddlers and small traders, New York City just successfully increased the number of such peddlers, especially in lower income areas, and they did so for health reasons.  The irony is too rich!  In India the pressure for foreign retail is led by the burgeoning middle class and one argument they make centers on the health standards of food delivery.  In New York the health argument is that there are so many huge areas of the city that have become “food deserts” without access to supermarkets that the city needed to license between 1000 and 1500 traders of fruit and vegetables in order to assure that the health and dietary needs of lower income neighborhoods are met at some level.  

    There was push back from the small green grocers and the New York program is not tailored to every neighborhood, but it meets a huge need.  When food is only about the top dollar, then this becomes another commodity that will be more plentiful to richer families.  When food is seen as a right and a necessity, then Mayor Bloomberg and ACORN’s India FDI Watch Campaign in two totally different places will be making sure that the right thing happens for the people, not just for corporate profits.

On the heels of the visit of Michael Duke, Vice Chairman of Walmart, hundreds of small shopkeepers and hawkers staged militant protest at the doorsteps of Reliance Fresh, Subhiksha and More in Shakarpur area of Delhi.