I was on Facebook complaining about my local Starbucks being closed for renovations. And a former coworker commented, how could I be so concerned about Starbucks when he didn’t even have a grocery store to shop at. My first-world griping had taken a serious turn. After talking to him, he informed me that he lives on the West Side in Garfield Park and that not only had their Aldi closed the year prior but that Sav-A-Lot, the lone grocer left in the community, was now temporarily closed because of failed health inspections. The community was now a food desert. Food deserts are prevalent in communities that are socio-economic disadvantaged. And while you often see communities of color linked together with the same systemic issues. The food desert issue is solely on the shoulders of those in the African-American community.
In 2013 when Safeway, the parent company of Dominick’s grocery store decided to close all its doors, Chicagoans were stunned. People didn’t know where they would shop for their everyday needs. The public was assured that communities would be okay as competitors were already in the process of purchasing former Dominick’s stores. And this was true, Bob Mariano purchased all of the city-based Dominick’s except the one in the African-American community. The South Shore Dominick’s would sit vacant for nearly seven years. When we don’t have adequate grocery stores, you find people buying everyday food stuff from their local gas station or corner stores. The quality of the produce and meat are poor. You often see lettuce browning or rotten and meat close to spoiling.
Compounded by the fact that everything is marked up 20%. This is unacceptable. Buying cereal and milk for my child at the local gas station should be an option. But it shouldn’t be the only option. And then you have communities even more disenfranchised than this. On the far South Side, away from all cameras sits Altgeld Gardens and Concordia homes. These two communities have been without a grocery store since Rosebud Farm stand closed. The Walmart that opened is four miles away. While that is nothing for those who have a car, seniors and mothers shouldn’t be forced to get on the bus with their shopping cart and good four miles on public transportation to get to a grocery store. That’s not normal and we shouldn’t accept it as a community.
We have to be intentional about investments in the African-American community. Particularly around grocery stores and quality food options. It’s literally a matter of life and death, with residents in the Streeterville community having a life expectancy rate 20 years longer than residents of Englewood. Former mayor Rahm Emmanuel invested in the Englewood community with a Whole Foods. The Mariano’s grocery store in Bronzeville is another example. Food scarcity and access to quality food is an issue with an easy fix. No one should live in a food desert community. And when you look at the annual city budget of Chicago, they shouldn’t have to.