On Tuesday First Lady Michelle Obama came to Chicago to attend a mayoral summit and to assist Mayor Rahm Emanuel bring awareness to the food desrt problem that plaugues mainly minority communities across America.
As a result of the summit, grocery store executives committed to opening 17 new stores in Chicago over the next few years.
For Obama, the homecoming brought back memories of when she observed people buying groceries at unusual places.
“I can remember seeing people buy their groceries at gas stations at ridiculous prices because there were no stores that sold healthy foods,” Obama recalled. “A lot of people don’t have the time or money to travel outside their community to reach stores that do sell fresh produce, fruits and vegetables, so they go to the closes store and buy whatever is there.”
And when it comes to healthy eating especially for children Obama said America should to do more than just give ‘lip service.’
“We can talk all we want about making healthy choices about the food we serve our kids, but if parents don’t have anywhere to buy those foods, then that’s all it is – it’s just talk,” explained Obama. “Imagine what we could achieve if mayors across the country started taking on this issue. Think about all the jobs we could create, all the neighborhoods we could begin to transform and what it means when our children finally get the nutrition they need to grow up healthy. I am confident that – one neighborhood, one community, one city at a time – we can ensure that all our kids have the happy, healthy futures they deserve.”
The first lady’s appearance was closed to the public but well attended by elected officials including Alderman Roderick Sawyer, whose six Ward includes the Chatham community on the South Side, which is among the city’s food deserts, according to Emanuel.
“Healthy eating is very important to the Black community because studies have shown that those who eat healthy live longer,” Sawyer said. “And at a time when Black males are being murdered or sent to prison at alarming rates, we need to make sure that there are stores like Walgreens in the Black community that sell food items to keep us healthy.”
Ald. Pat Dowell also attended. Her third Ward is among the communities City Hall has also identified as a food desert.
“I spoke with several CEO’s today about possibly opening up stores in my ward and they were generally interested in exploring ways to do so,” she said. “In my ward there are very few obstacles that would prevent more grocery stores from opening. Available land is not a problem. And financial incentives are not a problem.”
But one problem Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th ward) said she sees is the misconception by corporate America that there is no money to be made in the Black community.
“There is plenty of money to be made in the Black community,” Hairston added. “I think if corporations can overcome this perception that there is no money to be made in the Black community then we can start to move forward in getting more businesses to operate in our communities.”
And Emanuel pledged to continue fighting to eliminate food deserts, which he said exist primarily in underserved, economically deprived communities.
“It is unacceptable that a half-million Chicagoans do not have access to healthy, fresh foods for their family and I am committed to the elimination of these food deserts in our city,” said Emanuel, just before he introduced the first lady. “I am grateful to First Lady Michelle Obama, grocery executives and mayors who joined us today for their commitment to working together to ensure that residents have access to the foods they need to make healthy choices for themselves and their families.”