Thursday, June 16, 2011

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel Holds 'Food Desert Summit' With Grocers

The Let's Move! Mayor meets with six CEOS, asks for rapid action...  
First Lady Michelle Obama has pledged to eradicate food deserts from the US in the next six years through the Let's Move! campaign, and Rahm Emanuel, former Chief of Staff for President Obama and now Mayor of Chicago, is giving her big assistance in their hometown. Chicago is among the cities that has signed on to join Let's Move Cities and Towns, and on Wednesday, Emanuel held a "Food Desert Summit" with the CEOs of six of the nation's largest food/grocery chains, to discuss ways to rapidly eliminate food deserts from the Windy City. Although billed as a secret summit, Emanuel spoke with Chicago's ABC 7 News after the meeting, and he also had at least one reporter in the room with him to listen in on the discussion.

“The White House knows I am doing this conference today,” Emanuel said. “We are going to report on our progress and lay out a comprehensive plan for the next four years."

During his electoral campaign, Emanuel issued a food policy platform paper that was taken largely from the Let's Move! playbook. Emanuel told ABC political reporter Charles Thomas that his meeting with the grocery CEOs 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.

The execs at Emanuel's meeting were from Walmart and Walgreen's, Aldi and Roundy's and the parent companies of Jewel and Dominicks. Walmart is the largest corporate partner with the Let's Move! campaign, and has pledged to build smaller stores in food deserts to boost Mrs. Obama's efforts to improve food access and affordability.

Emanuel said he told the six CEOs that solving the food desert problem would improve their bottom lines, improve public health, and grow the city's economy. In March, Mrs. Obama gave a speech to the National League of Cities that covered this same ground.

The video of Emanuel's interview:

ABC 7 transcript:

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.

*ABC 7 video