SÜPRMARKT: An Innovative Grocery Store Fighting to Eliminate Food Deserts in LA
rē•spin the way you shop for groceries.
In 2016, Olympia Auset started SÜPRMARKT, a low-cost organic grocery service to eliminate food deserts. A vegan of 11 years, she grew tired of traveling hours by bus each time she needed fresh, healthy food. Since starting, SÜPRMARKT has served up 75,000+ pounds of affordable organics, making it easier and affordable for thousands of Angelenos to live healthier lives.
In May 2019, SÜPRSEED launched the Keep Slauson Fresh fundraising campaign to build South Central’s first full-service organic grocery, and in October 2020, she completed the purchase of the historic Mr. Wisdom’s location on Slauson Ave.
Olympia serves on the board of Co-Opportunity Market and is a Howard University Alum. Having grown up in neighborhoods across Los Angeles, Olympia has become very familiar with the differences in creativity, potential, and happiness which accompany differing food landscapes and is steadfast in her commitment to creating an infrastructure for a better earth.
Can you tell us a little more about yourself?
I’m an LA native who grew up in neighborhoods across Los Angeles, from South Central to Inglewood, to West LA. I left LA to attend Howard University in DC, and that is where I learned about food deserts, urban agriculture, the food system, and other international control systems. Equipped with a new understanding, I became steadfast in my commitment to creating an infrastructure for a better earth.
Going back to the beginning in 2016 when the pop-up launched, what inspired you to create this concept that addresses food insecurity head-on?
When SÜPRMARKT started, it was with the very simple purpose of feeding myself, my friends, and my family affordably. I was tired of taking 2-hour bus trips just to get fresh food. I was tired of going to the grocery store and agonizing over the prices of apples and avocados. I knew that if a few folks came together and pitched in, we could make organic produce affordable. I was determined to make fresh food available to the people I loved because I started to see people I cared about passing away from preventable diseases. Food deserts shouldn’t exist, everyone should have access to fresh, quality food in their neighborhood. Our mission is to end food apartheid in America by 2040 and serve the 24 million Americans living in food deserts.
It started as a pop-up but eventually expanded into a weekly event. How frequent would these pop-ups occur pre-pandemic?
What was the initial reaction from the community and how has that evolved throughout the years?
We started with nothing in Leimert Park. We had $100, no table, no chairs, no tent, and the few boxes of produce we could afford. Despite us being bare-bones, in the beginning, we sold out our first day. Since the start, the community has been so grateful to have us and so grateful that we are doing something about the abysmal access to quality food communities like ours experience.
Imagine living somewhere for 30 years, and despite having a decent income, having to travel outside of your neighborhood EACH time you needed a health food store or a vegan meal. Imagine eating every day, but never purchasing groceries from someone that looks like you. These are the bonds our presence is starting to break.
Since then, more and more people across the city and the country have reached out to express how proud, hopeful, and excited our work makes them feel. Millions of people have now heard our story, thousands have contributed financially to our cause, and hundreds of thousands will be served as we establish ourselves in the coming year.
In an article with Harper’s Bazaar, you described Los Angeles as food apartheid rather than a food desert. What is the significance of this shift of wording and what does this mean?
For clarity, South Central is a food desert. Los Angeles is a huge place and some neighborhoods are food deserts, while others aren’t- hence, the disparity. A food desert is defined by the USDA as “a low-income census tract where a substantial number or share of residents.. [live] more than 1 mile from a supermarket or large grocery store” I prefer the term ‘food apartheid’ because the word “desert” refers to waterless places which naturally occur in the living world. ‘Food desert’ implies food injustice occurs naturally, and when people see food injustice as “natural,” they don’t feel empowered or responsible to change it. The truth is, food deserts are not natural, they are man-made and result from redlining, white flight, legal policy, and other forms of systemic injustice.
‘Food Apartheid’ lets us know that there is a clear line of discrimination being drawn, where some Americans have access to fresh food, and others don’t. People lose their love because of it. It is important to be honest about the origin of problems if we are ever going to solve them.
How has the pandemic affected the way the community can access SÜPRMARKT LA?
SÜPRMARKT has been hard at work keeping others fed during the COVID Crisis. On 3.19.20, we sprang to action by procuring and providing 1,400 pounds of grains and seeds to people in need with our “Feed the Hood” giveaway. We then began partnering with healthy food providers in South Central to provide free + discounted vegan meals weekly. While we no longer have weekly in-person pop-ups, the community can still order online, pick up, and have pro-owned delivered. We have also hosted community giveaways since the start of the pandemic to supplement access at tough times. When our store opens, our community will have regular, affordable access to healthy food for the first time.
How do you feel as though SÜPRMARKT LA has rē•spun the shopping experience and accessibility?
We are innovating to create lasting solutions to long-standing problems, with style. There has never been a Black-owned organic grocery chain/ delivery service. There has never been somewhere you can shop, where every dollar you spend helps to end food apartheid. There has never been a successful national effort to subsidize healthy food, instead of fast food. We are changing the face of health in America so that it includes all of us. We are re-spinning what eating is like in America, and we hope you will join us for the ride.
One of rē•spin’s core pillars is GIVE. You’re currently raising funds for the Keep Slauson Fresh Campaign. Could you go into detail about what this campaign will provide to South Central’s community?
Our mission is to end food apartheid in America by 2040 and serve the 24 million Americans living in food deserts. Living in South Central makes you 3 times as likely to die from a preventable disease due to the limited access, and more grocery stores are being closed as we speak. Everyone that GIVES to us is giving the gift of life and a fair chance at great health.
Last October, we purchased the historic Slauson space that once housed Mr. Wisdom’s. Now our Keep Slauson Fresh is raising the funds to finish improvements and open South Central’s first full-service organic grocery store this summer.
We need everyone’s support with our next big step. Opening this space will be our first step towards our larger mission of ending food apartheid. It will allow us to start serving 1,000 Angelenos per week by 2022. Funds raised will help us subsidize the cost of everything we carry from smoothies to natural deodorants. Funds will also power free cooking classes, wellness experiences, cleanses, and events for Angelenos, as well as free educational content for the nation. Innovating a new model of making healthy food affordable, we will pioneer a formula for health equity that can be applied nationwide and beyond.