09/26/2012 09:48 pm ET

San Francisco Corner Stores Pushed To Carry Healthy, Fresh Products

Your neighborhood corner store isn't the first place you'd probably think of going for healthy food options. Hot Cheetos and Takis? Yes. Fresh ingredients for a salad? Less so.

San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar is looking to change that with a bill he plans on introducing. His measure would create the Healthy Food Retailer Incentives Program, which helps local corner stores shift away from their traditional troika of cigarettes, alcohol and gummy snacks and toward fresh food and produce.

"Many neighborhoods don't have access to fresh food," Mar, who currently engaged in a tough reelection battle against former Recreation and Parks Commissioner David Lee, told Bay City News during a City Hall press conference on Tuesday.

"In neighborhoods across the country from southeast San Francisco to east Los Angeles, to urban cities like Detroit and Newark, residents are living in food deserts, where fast-food restaurants far outnumber supermarkets and access to healthy food is scarce," the supervisor wrote in an editorial in USA Today. "From the Institute of Medicine to the World Health Organization, we know that reducing the consumption of junk food by kids could spare the health of millions and save billions of dollars to our over-strapped public health system."

If the Board of Supervisors passes Mar's bill, it would expand the Southeast Food Access Program, a pilot project that current exists in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood and helps convenience stores expand their healthy food options.

SEFA employs four part-time workers, dubbed "food guardians," who scour the shelves of corner stores in the Bayview while educating both shop owners and consumers about food choices.

"As a result of growing up in the neighborhood, I suffer from obesity. I'm overweight because of the lack of options for good healthy food," Antonia Willaims, one those employees, told the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "The grocery stores in the area were very limited in what they offered. I believe my parents weren't as educated or aware about health and nutrition."

A recent study named San Francisco's southeastern cluster of neighborhoods as one of the worst food deserts in the United States.

The Office of Economic and Workforce Development will coordinate the program, which is entirely voluntary on the part of the participating stores and won't have any negative repercussions for those that choose not to participate.

The San Francisco Examiner reports:

Just how much of an impact this legislation would have is unclear. The program would ensure The City focuses attention on promoting and assisting stores that meet the criteria of being a "healthy food retailer." That includes at least 35 percent of the selling area containing fresh produce and no more than 20 percent of the area having tobacco or alcohol for sale. The program would analyze what areas are most in need of healthier food choices and figure out how to attract purveyors to those areas.

Mar has long been a strong supporter of pushing healthier food options for San Francisco families.

In 2010, he led the charge to pass a ban on selling Happy Meals within the city limits. While the measure got him mocked on The Daily Show and resulted in McDonald's still selling Happy Meals (only now charging ten cents for the toy and donating the proceeds to charity), his move drew national attention and predated a shift in company policy to offer the option of healthy apple fries instead of the standard French ones.

"[It was] a big change that the industry is acknowledging responsibility for childhood obesity and moving in the right direction," Mar told the San Francisco Chronicle.