Food | Opinions & Editorials

Opinion: Still Waiting

Reactions to a South Side Weekly piece on food access further underscore the crisis faced by South Shore

Jasmin Liang

Nicole Bond, a writer and performance poet, was interviewed by Chloe Hadavas for a story on food access in South Shore. The article explored the food desert that remains in South Shore after plans for a Mariano’s in the ill-fated Lakeside development were scrapped. She later joined Hadavas on WBEZ’s The Barber Shop Show to discuss the article, but came away from the interview with reservations. Bond, who has since joined the Weekly as Stage & Screen Editor, expands on those reservations, and the continued fight for food access in South Shore, in this editorial.

In full disclosure, my Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Award winning poem “Crossing the Desert” was published in the South Side Weekly 2016 Lit Issue. As a result, writer Chloe Hadavas reached out to me when collecting data for her well-researched story, “What Happened to Mariano’s” in the November 30 Food Access Issue. In additional disclosure, I am more of a writer than a speaker, so I need to take to print to speak on the chat that Chloe and I had on Richard Steele’s Barber Shop Show on WBEZ this past December—regarding her story and my contribution to it.

Just knowing the Barber Shop Show reached out to Chloe and me to discuss her article felt like a substantial step toward bringing more awareness to the inaccessibility of major grocery stores in South Shore. This is the core of Chloe’s piece. The covert reason why major grocery stores are inaccessible is the core of my poem, which Chloe quoted in her story.

However, both Chloe and I left the taping feeling like that was not the discussion. I won’t speak further for Chloe, but I believe the dialogue bypassed the subtle nuances of why the former Dominick’s location at 71st and Jeffery has been abandoned since the chain left Chicago three years ago, as well as the nuances of how likely it is the space will remain abandoned until the predominately Black neighborhood becomes more gentrified.

Chloe’s story clearly detailed the false start at building a Mariano’s on a parcel of land not too far from the old Dominick’s location. Her research uncovered how developers flat-out scrapped the plans because they deemed the location and surrounding neighborhoods undesirable. That is a social justice issue, a point that was not driven home effectively on Steele’s show.

The show took a detour when producer Ayanna Contreras joined in to speak about, even promote, the various options in and near South Shore that she frequents for fresh fruits and vegetables. This was likely fueled by our off-air talk about how far away from South Shore you have to go to get an apple. My feeling: Contreras, who disclosed off-air having an apple in her bag, simply grew weary of continued mentions of an apple (the dichotomy between the apple and the serpent—as vibrantly depicted in my poem’s final stanza—is the central theme of why the neighborhood does not have a grocery store). Although Contreras mentioned places Chloe writes about in her piece, Chloe used the locations to illustrate how they do not logistically match the walk score (a measure of how walkable a neighborhood is) of the abandoned Dominick’s nor do they fulfill the need of a full-service grocery chain. The conversation went further off the rails when Walgreens was introduced as a grocery shopping option. Last time I checked, Walgreens is primarily a pharmacy and in no way should anyone be forced to settle for buying food at a pharmacy.

There was a sound bite from the neighborhood alderwoman, Leslie Hairston, from a previous Barber Shop Show, about a meeting she intended to have last summer that she hoped would be enough. Nope. Not enough—still no grocery store. And there was mention of Karriem’s Fresh Market, coming soon to fill some of the old Dominick’s space. Nope, still hasn’t happened yet. And if or when it ever does, it will be a fruit and vegetable market and not a full-service grocery store. 

Furthermore, it most likely will not happen any time soon because food access in South Shore, is a social justice issue, more in need of activism than in need of fiscally glamorous business dealings—and in final full disclosure, Karriem Beyah (of Karriem’s Fresh Market) regards himself as a pure businessman, not an activist, according to the May 26, 2009 Time Magazine story, “Can America’s Food Deserts Bloom?” by Steven Gray. Paralleling Chloe’s story, Gray’s story addresses the crisis of food deserts and the other crises food deserts bring (the point that my poem was written to illustrate), as well as how major grocery chains have systematically abandoned largely Black and Latino communities. None of these points were given the serious platform I had hoped they would get when we were invited to the show.

In a subsequent Barber Shop Show featuring Dr. Jinfuza Wright, her husband Fred Carter, and their son Akeem Carter of the Healthy Food Hub (also mentioned in Chloe’s piece), a sound bite of me from the previous show, where I spoke in frustration about us not actually discussing the problem, was used to open the conversation about their Healthy Food Hub. Respectfully, I commend them and others (like Top Box, for another example) for their efforts to bring new innovative ways to fill the gap left by major grocers abandoning Black and less affluent neighborhoods. Nevertheless, a neighborhood—every neighborhood—should have the presence of a full-service grocery store. It’s not a complicated concept. It is racism and classism that only certain neighborhoods do not have one and that decision makers unabashedly proclaim their unwillingness to build one.

Here’s a bizarre, conspiracy-theorist, poet-brained thought: What if the entire Dominick’s chain decided to leave Chicago solely to close that one Link-card-shopping, float-a-check-‘til-payday-bouncing, loose-cigarettes-in-front-of-selling, garbage-in-the-parking-lot-throwing, random-drive-by-shooting, 71st Street location? Corporations will go farther out of their way to hurt Black and poor people than they will to help them. But I’m only a poet, what do I know?

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Thoughts on “Opinion: Still Waiting”

  1. Nicole is the voice of a generation that inspires uplifts and provides great debate for all generations. The absence of grocery stores in our “urban” areas is but one of the many resources needed to support and uplift communities suffering the many blows from poverty. Traveling around the city of chicago as I have in this past year. I am astounded at the many enclaves void of Markets health care centers libraries schools or any other sign of culture life or robust community. I believe this is by Design. We as a community need new Architects

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