Last week, Design Observer posted about Bodega Down Bronx, a video created by Brooklyn-based Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) in collaboration with high school students at New Settlement’s Bronx Helpers, a civic engagement and leadership oriented learning organization.
In the video, the students give a tour of their local bodegas, investigating why corner stores in poor neighborhoods, like the South Bronx, stock potato chips and Twinkies while corner stores in affluent areas like Carroll Gardens are stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables. They met with people at all levels along the bodega food chain, from shopkeepers and customers, to distributors and drivers. They also met with nutrition professors and even a U.S. congresswoman.
While it’s easy to say Bodegas in poor neighborhoods stock bad food because customers in those neighborhoods only buy bad food, the issues are a bit more complex – it’s a matter of education and possibly even legislation. The video explores the question in further detail and touches on key issues such as the incidence of diabetes in the South Bronx and how it relates to the food market supply chain. I highly recommend you watch it.
I can never resist a trip down memory lane, especially when it relates to food, so in the spirit of Bodega Down, I’ve decided to create a Top 13 list of Bodega Foods ca. 1990-1997. I have chosen this time period because it was when my Bodega index was at its highest. I went to Stop-1 on the corner of South Burnett Street in East Orange NJ every morning before elementary school, and when I got to school, I also went to the Bodega just across from the playground.
I know, two trips to the bodega before school seems excessive, but one store had the potato chip game on lock-down and the other store had the largest bulletproof candy case I have ever seen, even to this day. Plus, with a $20 per week allowance and virtually no expenses (aside from comic books and video games) I was practically swimming in expendable income.
I now present to you, The Top 13 Bodega Foods (of East Orange, NJ) ca. 1990-1997.
13. Pickle In A Bag
Truthfully, these didn’t sell very well in my neighborhood but they were so weird they had to make the list. I remember seeing them at the corner store and thinking they looked really gross. However, I was an adventurous child so I bought one once. It wasn’t bad but I definitely never bought one again.
12. Charleston Chew
Charleston chews are the Mazda Miata of chocolate bars. They’re tiny, yet flashy enough to get your attention. They’re delicious but deep down inside you know you’d much prefer a bigger more robust candy bar. The only reason you got a Charleston Chew was because its small size allowed for virtually undetectable mid-class snacking. If you were caught, you could chew and swallow the bar in its entirety before the teacher even got to your desk.
11. Winterfresh Gum
When Winterfresh dropped in 1994, it changed the gum game forever. I don’t know if it was the packaging, or just that it was a new flavor, but it quickly became understood that chewing Winterfresh was considered cool. I, personally, think it tastes like doo-doo mint but for some reason, kids in my neighborhood couldn’t get enough.
10. Pineapple Soda
Orange Soda hasn’t always been the drink of choice for the developing urban child. Before Keenan and Kel came along and made Sunkist popular, there was Pineappple Soda. At 50 cents a bottle, it was certainly cheap, but don’t let the price fool you. The flavor was somewhere between Kool-Aid and candy — only carbonated.
9. Wise Cheez Doodles
These came in two flavors, puffed and crunchy. Though very different, both were equally delicious. I recall crunchy being more popular than puffed. However, both flavors turn your hands Oompah Loompah orange.
8. Slim Jim
When Macho Man Randy Savage started interrupting the 7am-before-school-while-eating-a-bowl-of-cereal cartoon line-up, covered head-to-toe in melted garbage bags and piñata scraps, and wailing on and on about Slim Jims, it was a little unnerving, but the sheer absurdity of it was intriguing. After all, Macho Man was a WWF superstar, and even though he was basically Hulk Hogan on PCP, his endorsement of a product meant something to us kids. Within weeks of those commercials, kids all over my neighborhood were walking around with greasy little beef jerky stained fingers, trying to recreate the elusive SNAP from the commercials.