Emanuel meets with grocery chains to resolve 'food deserts'

June 15, 2011 (CHICAGO)

After the meeting, the mayor sat down for an exclusive interview with ABC 7 political reporter Charles Thomas. The mayor said his meeting with the chief executive officers of six of the nation's largest food/grocery chains was historic.

"Never anywhere in the country. First-ever conference with a mayor, first-ever discussion about the food desert. First-ever discussion with anybody about how to make this work," said Emanuel.

Food deserts are the low-income neighborhoods where the major chains have chosen not to build stores. Most of the smaller, independent markets available in the deserts are stocked with canned, boxed and bagged goods and generally do not carry fresh vegetables and fresh meat.

"It's harder to get to a grocery store to get all of that, so a supermarket would be very good for everybody in this neighborhood," said Nicole Lockhart of North Lawndale.

The CEOs at Emanuel's meeting represented Walmart and Walgreen's, Aldi and Roundy's and the parent companies of Jewel and Dominicks.

The mayor gave them maps showing where Chicago's food deserts exist and promised incentives for the companies to build stores in the underserved areas.

"I said, okay, one of the ordinances we'll do, if it's designated in a food desert, we'll give you a fast track on that," he said.

At Munchies variety store in the North Lawndale food desert, owner Sam Abedhadi worried that his and other small stores might be driven out of business by supermarkets.

"We might lose a lot of customers or either keep the same customers and less money. They won't spend that much," said Abedhadi.

"If it's a food desert, they're not offering fresh fruits and vegetables at that local mom and pop. I'm sorry, potato chips doesn't count," said Emanuel.

The mayor said he told the six CEOs that solving the food desert problem would improve their bottom lines, the public's health and grow the city's economy.

"I would call that win, win, win. And I'm about winning," said Emanuel.

Emanuel also said he's also moving on a plan to help urban farmers grow fruits and vegetables in the city. He wants the produce grown inside the city limits sold in the stores he wants opened here.

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