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Way of the Food Desert

by Meagan Flynn


In a rough area in Des Moines where convenience stores are the only grocery stores, the “bad apples,” as one storeowner calls them, have wrongly defined not only the convenience stores, but their neighborhoods, too. The good apples aren’t quite making headlines. Madni Muhammed is a cashier in the kind of neighborhood where, if you’re not from it, you drive through. You hit the lock button if you’re waiting in the parking lot outside a convenience store like his. Pulling out of the lot, you push a little harder on the pedal on your way to some place better. Madni calls it a “C Class area.” It’s on the outskirts of Des Moines, but could be the backdrop of any metro area with low-income housing and windows with holes. It’s a place where no one buys expensive liquor—except on the weekends, maybe. Where the broken snare and low bass of rap music is the soundtrack of every street corner. Where an iron grid covers the front windows of most shops, including Madni’s. With guns men rob convenience stores like his—there are three in the area co-owned by three Pakistani families. Outsiders don’t venture into these neighborhoods for fear of being jumped, I’ve heard. If they have to, maybe it’s best, they think, to stay in their cars. But one day, I forgot these unspoken rules. On a sunny autumn afternoon, a friend and I strolled into the University Groceries convenience store. Shortly after, an intimidating group of loiterers entered, and one began yelling at the man behind the counter named Ali Saquib. The loiterers were outside waiting for Ali to come, it seemed. Most of the group hasn’t returned to the store for over a year, after one of them stuck his hand over the counter and stole some cheap tobacco products. Ali caught him on tape and filed a police report, but the guy disappeared....

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by Meagan Flynn
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