Food co-ops are a better alternative to corporate grocers

Corporate grocers may not reflect our values in areas like sustainability and labor practices. Food co-ops allow us to own and control grocery options that reflect our values.

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Mariano’s and Jewel grocery stores would fall under a single company under a proposed merger of food giants Kroger and Albertsons.

Mariano’s and Jewel grocery stores would fall under a single company under a proposed merger of food giants Kroger and Albertsons.

Clare Proctor / Sun-Times

Recent news that Kroger, owner of Mariano’s, plans to acquire Albertsons, owner of Jewel, is the latest in a decades-long trend toward grocery industry consolidation. Corporate executives assert that consolidation produces cost savings for consumers. Whether that ultimately bears out, there are clear concerns with having our grocery access controlled by increasingly larger and fewer entities.

For starters, less diverse supply chains means bigger problems when disruption inevitably occurs. Local farmers and producers have a harder time getting products to customers, potentially forcing them out of business. Stores in lower-income neighborhoods may be closed without warning.

We as consumers have fewer choices, and corporate grocers may not reflect our values in areas like sustainability and labor practices.

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Fortunately, there is an alternative to increasing grocery consolidation: food cooperatives.

Food co-ops are owned by communities and neighborhoods. They are democratically-run businesses — one owner, one vote — and cannot be bought or acquired without majority consent. Co-ops elect boards of directors who set the priorities and policies for the business.

Food co-ops keep more of our grocery dollars circulating locally versus being extracted out of communities; for example, the percentage of income co-ops devote to charitable causes is three times that of conventional stores, and food co-ops average 38% of their revenue being spent locally.

Food co-ops are on the rise in Chicagoland. Chicago Market, a co-op grocer set to open in 2023 in Uptown, is one of an exciting number of locally-focused, community-centered, start-up grocery cooperatives (including Wild Onion Market in Rogers Park, Southside Food Co-Op on the South Side and Prairie Food Co-op in Lombard). Dill Pickle in Logan Square and Sugar Beet in Oak Park are regional food cooperatives that have been open for a number of years.

Through food co-ops, we can own and control grocery options reflecting our values; fostering strong, diverse regional food systems; and investing our food dollars locally. We usually have little say regarding trends in corporate grocery consolidation.

We do not have to cede our destiny to absentee investors or wealthy elites. We can create alternatives that build shared prosperity with decisions made by people most immediately affected. Local food cooperatives strike me as such an alternative, through which we might decide — as neighbors and stakeholders — to grow together.

Dan Arnett, general manager, Chicago Market

City must do more to help homeless

When was the last time your commute took you down Marine Drive? If it was in the last year, you probably noticed an abundance of tents lining the way. From Irving Park Road north to Foster Avenue, tents have been popping up like a campground. The pandemic and rising rents have caused the homeless population to skyrocket.

Not enough is being done by the city to help provide appropriate housing for those in need. Winter is coming, and many only have the shelter of a tent. Mayor Lori Lightfoot has $10 million allocated for housing in the 2023 budget. This is not enough to house the homeless and does not create a stream of income to support transitional housing expenses.

One solution is to follow the lead of the grassroots organization, Bring Chicago Home, which has proposed a raise of the real estate transfer tax (RETT) on homes valued over $1 million, resulting in an annual stream of income. This additional tax money could be used to maintain transitional housing while building more affordable housing for those that desperately need it.

Heather Fink, Uptown

AIDS garden offers history lesson to all

I finally paid a visit to the AIDS garden at the Belmont Rocks site. As I was zipping through on a Divvy bike, I noticed the small placards with QR codes along the pathways. Listening to the diverse set of stories they hosted gave me an intense array of emotions, including pride, sorrow and hope.

As a young gay man who has been in this city for only a few years, it is easy to forget or neglect histories that weren’t thrown at me in school or have immediacy in my daily life. I am so grateful to those who made this space possible, those who tell these important stories and those who aren’t here to tell their stories, but bravely and authentically lived to make this city the refuge it is for me today.

Preserving and sharing under-appreciated histories is life-giving and life-saving, so I hope you will engage with the stories at www.aidsgardenchicago.org, even if an in-person visit to the lakefront is reserved for next spring.

Gus Haffner, Lake View

Educating the younger, aging generation

Young people need to know the monthly Social Security check seniors receive is based on paying into it. When a person doesn’t fulfill their quarterly payment responsibility, the monthly amount is greatly reduced. People may think they automatically get $1,500 a month at age 62, but this is not true.

A lot of folks think working for cash under the table is great, until they find out they get only around $500 a month if they haven’t paid taxes for all the periods. A Social Security education course should be taught to all high school students so they understand Social Security and Medicare for their own future.

Mike Zaczek, Orland Park

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