Jersey City: Issues Concerning Violence, Fast food & Sustainability \\ Charles Odei

I was born and raised in Jersey City, New Jersey: a place populated with 65% minorities,  a place where violence in schools is common, a place labeled more dangerous than 69% of the cities in the U.S, and a place where discussions about sustainability and a healthy diet seem foreign. Growing up in such a community, Jersey City felt like a lost cause. It felt like our teachers, politicians, and other leaders simply did not care to bring change, as the murders, lack of preserving natural resources, and junk food were always prevalent. As a result, overtime I became complacent in my situation and ignorant to any possibilities of improvement. However, after taking a course, Critical Thinking & Writing: Food Cultures and Ideas, taught by Nicholas Leither, a Santa Clara University English professor, I learned the importance of not opting to settle, but instead choosing to question everything and starting with myself as the change I want to see in the world. 

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Adding insult to injury: Jersey City woman says she was robbed by bystanders after being shot; Daring bandit snatches $20K in jewelry from Jersey City store: cops; Was last week’s Jersey City homicide connected to other shootings that day? (“Hudson County”)  My head shakes in total distraught as my eyes glare at these words on the front page of my local newspaper. “Again?”, I think. Almost everyday I can pick up the newspaper and find similar headlines. My eyes have seen enough.

Violence has become too common in my community, and other urban neighborhoods in our country. I attribute this to the lack of organized programs for children. When children in my community are denied access to recreational programs, they are, instead, led into gangs, drugs, and ultimately gun violence.

(21-year old Jersey City man was shot dead on Ocean Avenue early Saturday morning.)
(21-year old Jersey City man was shot dead on Ocean Avenue early Saturday morning.)

In a typical year, my hometown, Jersey City, New Jersey reports over six thousand five hundred criminal activities. One can turn on the local television news station and continuously hear stories concerning violence.

In addition to the regular violence in Jersey City, the lack of sustainability efforts is also an issue. As I walk around my neighborhood’s parks and on sidewalks, I often see trash, such as both empty chip bags and candy packages, on the ground or witness people littering these objects onto the ground. Furthermore, despite scarce water resources, in the summertime, careless children allow sprinklers to run nonstop throughout our parks. Lastly, consider the corner grocery stores located at almost every other block in Jersey City. These stores all sell junk food products from corporations like The Coca-Cola Company: a company that has been exposed for often invading small communities (unannounced) and harvesting municipal water resources at a cost of less than $0.01/gallon. The company then sells the same water for $7/gallon (Kraus, Schuyler). This kind of action completely counteracts the concept of social sustainability and is another challenge that jersey City has yet to overcome.

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Another problem Jersey City needs to overcome is the frequent additions of fast food companies, which is a health disaster for all naive enough to play into it. You see, the relatively cheap prices found on the menus of fast food restaurants contribute to the trap of the fast food system. Often, their inexpensive items make it the only reasonable option for low-income workers. With small salaries, these men and women are led towards unhealthy fast food diets to save money for other family necessities. Let’s face it, fast food prices are extremely tempting for anyone who is living on a budget. Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have concluded that the minimum wage does not provide a living wage for most American families. (Schultheis, Eric) And I can assure you that even a worker making twice the minimum wage (my mother makes around $15 per hour), struggles to support her family financially. Consequently, cheap fast food becomes very valuable for families like my own in Jersey City. 

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(On Communipaw Avenue in Jersey City, these two fast food restaurants are located about half a mile from one another. )
(On Communipaw Avenue in Jersey City, these two fast food restaurants are located about half a mile from one another. )

As an immediate precaution, it would be beneficial for more leaders in Jersey City to keep violence prevention, sustainability, and healthy diets in mind going forward. However, if the people in charge fail to do so, there is still hope. Through my two quarter CTW course I learned the significance of investigating issues that pique my interest and then contributing to the change I want to see through my everyday actions. For example, my interest in making Jersey City a better place for all, has lead me to write research papers, concerning all three of the aforementioned problems, throughout my CTW courses.

I recently researched obesity and its relation to fast food. According to Organic Consumer Association (OCA), “one in every three children born since the year 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime.” (Cummins, Ronnie) Also, (OCA) confirms that “diet-related obesity, diabetes, and heart disease are now the nation’s number one public health problem, generating an estimated $150 billion in health care costs every year” (Cummins, Ronnie).

Moreover, my studies show that Jersey City can benefit from emulating Santa Clara University’s promotion of reusable water bottle usage. At the beginning of the school year, each student was even given his or her own long-lasting reusable water bottle. Upon questioning several students, I recently learned that the reusable water bottles prompted discussion about sustainability efforts on campus and made students more sensitive to purchasing  plastic water bottles and soda beverages like Coca-Cola from Benson, the school dining area.

Finally, the abundance of news coverage that violence in places like Jersey City receive can be problematic. Dr. Park Dietz, a forensic psychologist, argues that the media’s attention to people who commit crimes can inspire copycats (“Main Menu”). Instead of focusing on depicting criminal activity in black neighborhoods like mine, news outlets should pay more attention to ways in which they can help limit the violence such as advocating for socioeconomic equality. Jeff Grabmeier is a senior director of research and innovation communications at Ohio State University and a principal writer covering research in the social sciences, business and humanities (Grabmeier, Jeff). He suggests, the problem is not that blacks are committing crimes at a higher rate than other races simply because they are black; instead the issue can be attributed to the poverty-stricken neighborhoods in which blacks are inclined to live.

As a result of my research and inspiration from CTW, I plan to make known in my community the problematic health statics and fast food issue, I plan to make known the effectiveness of using water bottles and the importance of denying companies like Coca-Cola who commit unsustainable business practices, I plan to make known that violence is not the answer, but helping to bridge the socioeconomic gap holds value.

Works Cited

Cummins, Ronnie. “America’s Obesity and Diabetes Epidemic: Junk Food Kills.” America’s Obesity and Diabetes Epidemic: Junk Food Kills. Organic Consumers Association, 29 Feb. 2012. Web. 04 Nov. 2014.

Grabmeier, Jeff. “Nf/poverty & Crime/FEBRUARY.” Nf/poverty & Crime/FEBRUARY. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 May 2015.

“Hudson County.” News. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 June 2015.

Kraus, Schuyler. “Take Back the Tap.” N.p., n.d. Web.

“Main Menu.” Park Dietz Associates. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 June 2015.

Schultheis, Eric. “Introduction to the Living Wage Calculator.” Poverty In America Living Wage Calculator. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Nov. 2014.

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