It was 5 p.m. the night before Thanksgiving when I went to the Food 4 Less at North and Cicero avenues. The parking lot was full and I could tell a lot of the people shopping had just gotten paid. They looked tired and haggard and many appeared grateful that a store was available right in the midst of their community where they could purchase all the trimmings they needed to go with their Thanksgiving dinner.
Well, let me amend that statement. “All the trimmings” is an overstatement. Why? Because the main item most every black person asked for when they went into the produce department was missing from the shelves. There wasn’t even an empty bin in the middle of the produce section to indicate that the item had at one time been in stock and was now sold out. Nor was there a single sign posted alerting harried shoppers that one of the main Thanksgiving staples they wanted to have on their table for dinner was not sold out. So many had to spend their limited time looking around the produce section trying to find someone to answer the never-ending question: “Where are the Greens?”
Yes, it’s true. In a neighborhood that is 90-percent African-American, not a single fresh collard, mustard, or turnip green was to be found in the store. Now if the West Side and the Austin community were full of grocery stores, then, yes, I can accept that an item might be sold out. But Food 4 Less is the only game in town. To have a staple item, which is a main side dish of the black community’s Thanksgiving table, completely absent from the shelves sends a message. For me, that message is: What this community eats is not a priority on the produce manager’s list.
Guess what other item also was not available? Yup, along with the missing-in-action greens, not a single green pepper could be found – another staple ingredient in many of the side dishes that people prepare to go along with their roasted, fried or smoked turkey. As I scratched my head in wonderment, I noticed tons of other vegetables available, but not the ones black folks wanted.
One only has to go back in time to when Pete’s Produce occupied the corner of North and Central avenues. This time of year, the bins would be filled to the ceiling with every type of greens – collard, mustard, turnip, slick mustard, kale and spinach. The produce workers would layer ice between the greens to keep them fresh, and the greens would be replenished as fast as they were plucked out of the bins and stuffed into plastic bags.
My favorite greens to cook are collard, and I know that to feed a family of three, I have to buy, at minimum, nine bunches of greens. For people cooking for large groups of family and friends, the amount of greens consumed is humongous. So I found it very “interesting” that a much larger grocer like Food 4 Less found it impossible to keep up with the demand – unless there wasn’t any interest in doing so.
When I asked the guys working the produce department where the greens were, I was given the excuse that they had ordered 100 cases and only 10 came in. But seeing that greens are something that one can cook a day in advance and they taste even better a day later, that answer wasn’t acceptable. It sounded to me like the produce manager made a poor decision about the amount of greens the store would need to meet the demands of this community. Plus, the store was scheduled to be open on Thanksgiving Day. I know many people who, even if they eat at other people’s houses, still tend to cook their dinner at home up to a day later.
I went home and sent Food 4 Less a complaint via e-mail. I let them know my displeasure at going to their store and watching while my community reacted to not being able to find something that should have been stocked to the ceiling. I would encourage others who also encountered the same scenario to let Food 4 Less know that the situation is unacceptable. Until we express our dissatisfaction via the proper channels, this won’t be the last time situations like this happen. And until we begin to open up stores of our own and patronize them, this community will forever be at the mercy of those who don’t care.
Pay attention, Austin. Pay attention!