Food Inc.

The majority of people who read my blog have no need to worry about food. If you're hungry, and there's nothing in the refrigerator, then you hop in the car and go to the store. Usually, the only concern we have is value and nutrition. And, because of our mobility, we can always find another store the suits our needs. One of the issues in urban communities is the vast amount of people who do not have automobile access but rely on public transportation. When they need food, it's an entirely different endeavor. If they're fortunate, there's a grocery store within walking distance. Otherwise, they're forced to get on a bus and haul groceries in a most uncomfortable way. Because of that hassel, many impoverished urbanites are less inclined to make regular trips to the grocery store and, instead, rely on local neighborhood convenience stores for their food needs. These corner stores tend to 1) charge more for food and 2) predominantly offer junk food. As a result, the people in these communities eat less nutritiously, which negatively affects their quality of life. In order to assist these urban residents they need access to healthy foods, access that could come in the form of a local farmers market or (for an option not affected by the seasons) a local grocery store.

If you live in Cincinnati, perhaps you heard the fervor concerning the Roselawn Kroger Store closing. The announcement caught the communities of Roselawn and Bond Hill by surprise. The corporation cited a significant loss in income last year as the reason for the closing. The communities were given no advance notice that profits must increase or the store would close. They're organizing to try to combat this, but it's too late. The community will lose their grocery store and, most likely, will never get it back.

I find all of this very disappointing. As a city resident, I ask, "What is Kroger's obligation to service these communities?" Your response might be that Kroger is a company beholden only to their shareholders; they are in business to turn a profit and do not need to care for the interests of the community. While this seems to be a logical answer, it ignores the relationship between the Kroger Company and the city of Cincinnati. Our city, through generations of loyal consumership, made the Kroger company what it is today. Yet as the company has grown to become a national business, it has continued to reap the tax breaks and benefits from this storied relationship while ignoring it's responsibility to our municipality. These communities that are losing Kroger stores have shown immense loyalty to the company for decades. But now, as the bottom line becomes the most important thing, they are turning their backs on these customers. But Kroger is OK. Because they can replace that customer base exponentially by opening up suburban megastores. In short, they piss on urban communities.

You might object to my harsh statement, but hear me out on this point. How does Kroger justify these closings? Base economics. "The stores are losing money," they cry. I contend that they want these stores to lose money. These urban grocers were established before the company went national. No longer do they fit the mission of the corporation. To avoid charges of racism (as most of these stores are located in predominantly African American communities) they cite falling numbers, making it an economic decision. But do not be deceived, friends: data can be manipulated. If they can ensure that they break even, the can make the store a hell-hole and keep operating. They difference of overall presentation between a suburban store and an urban store is stark. The product on the shelves at the urban stores are inferior. The selection is sparse. Again, naysayers will suggest that it's because the community won't support it, but it isn't the tail that wags the dog. Kroger is giving up on the inner-city. I fully anticipate a location on the Banks downtown, but this will cater to a higher-income urban-dweller and not the people that need it the most.

Even worse than this is the way that my community, Walnut Hills, will soon be treated. Our local Kroger was recently revamped because the Corryville (UC campus location) will soon be torn down and remodeled; when I say "revamped" I mean they basically repainted. The company will need the Walnut Hills location when Corryville closes, so they can retain some local business. But make no mistake: once the Corryville location is completed, they will close our local Kroger. They will say, as they have cried for years, that the store was not profitable—that people choose to shop in other locations. The truth is, they want this store to fail. And when they do, they'll hold the community hostage.

You see, Kroger has a unique rental agreement in their Walnut Hills facility. When they close up, they'll retain rights to the property and no other grocer will be able to open up shop there for years. Yes, they're preparing to hijack a community's access to food. You see, Kroger knows that our community is rebounding economically, and that new, higher-earning customers are moving into the area. Rather than investing in the community, they're going to try to eliminate it's grocery options, so that people will drive to Corryville and Hyde Park to do their shopping.

And who loses: our neighborhood's elderly and impoverished who do not have automobile transportation. Kroger doesn't give a rip about them, only about maximizing profits.

I spent time tonight writing this because I want you to seriously think about these issues. The next time you're watching the local news and seeing citizens complaining that their grocery is closing, at least try to empathize. For many in our population, this is practically a life or death issue. Where will they get healthy food with which to feed their family? Instead of treating massive profits as the goal, Kroger would do better to invest in these communities and in the lives of the people who remained loyal to their company throughout generations.