Saturday, October 29, 2011


I confess. When Michelle Obama was in Chicago last week, and visited Walgreens, I stood in front of the television yelling at her.

Why was Michelle Obama, of all people, in Chicago-city of neighborhoods, home of the nation's most diverse ethnic population, in the middle of the richest farmland in the world, and leader of the WW2 Victory Gardens movement-standing in some anonymous Walgreens, praising them for importing tomatoes from Chile.

Why was she not walking down Clark Street in Rogers Park, where there are probably 15 locally-owned mercados featuring produce raised locally, and run by families living in the neighborhood. Why was she not on Devon Avenue in the 40th ward, another strip of vibrant local economy? How about 57th Street in her own neighborhood, and home, until the big boxes shut it down, of the famous 57th Street Food Co-op?

The solution to healthy food systems and urban vitality is not another vast parking lot, where private security will boot your car if you so much as step onto the sidewalk to mail a letter, but small, locally owned grocery stores, with sensible inspection protocols, and family management.

After the '68 riots, Chicago let its local economies die. Where once there were dozens of family businesses keeping the neighborhoods, especially the African-American neighborhoods alive, a decades-long shibboleth has been sold us, teaching us that "business" happens on Wall Street or LaSalle Street, over-regulating small businesses while letting the big guys get away with murder and the family silver, and selling our own livelihoods back to us in Big Boxes stocked with the fruits of foreign slave labor.

Once "business" is what your grandpa did, in his shop around the corner from his house, or downstairs from his apartment. You worked there on the weekends and after school, learning how to run a business, a business that you would take over, when your grandpa and your pa got too old. We've let not one, or two, but now three generations of business acumen just die in service to the supposed "efficiency" and low prices of Walmart and its ilk.

Just another reason to be disappointed in the Obamas. Michelle, Walgreen's is not the answer to food deserts or to sustainable economies. Walgreen's is the problem. Bring back the neighborhood pharmacists, tailors, shoe repairs, appliance repairs, and grocers.

A coalition of local food activists agrees with me. They've created the Statement of Local Food Economy. You can sign the statement, too--instructions here.

Root n fruit soup
1 medium parsnip
1 medium white carrot
1 medium orange carrot
1 cup cooked rice
1 cup pumpkin puree
2+ cups water

1 medium purple carrot, sliced
1 medium white carrot, sliced
small onion, cubed

salt and white pepper to taste

Roughly chop and then saute the parsnip, orange carrot and one of the white carrots in about 2 tablespoon butter, until very soft. Add a cup of water and boil under they start to fall apart. Add the pumpkin and another cup of water; bring to a light boil, then puree with an immersible blender (or decant into a food processor if you don't have the blender).

Sautee the sliced onion and carrot in about a tablespoon of butter, until onion is translucent. Add to the puree, and add water until it reaches the desired consistency (personal choice). Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with homemade shortbread biscuits.

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