#458: Cabbages and Kings

April 1st, 2015

The little abuela got off the North Avenue bus in front of Tip Top Liquors in Humboldt Park.

She and her grocery bags shuffled west on the sidewalk, past the liquor store, past a brand of community church noted for taking over storefronts, past the abandoned offices of “Carlos F. Pedrera M.D., Especialidad en Medicina Familiar, Dentista, Farmacia.”

A photo studio and a doorway arced with chopped skateboard decks were her next encounters before she slowly made her way into the Family Dollar.

She did it while clutching a paper grocery bag from Eataly, a luxury downtown grocer/restaurant where you can buy white truffle puree by the $98 tube and a box of dried pasta runs from $2.20 to $26.80.

This is a story about food.

I left work early after a novelty fried-egg-and-bacon slice of pizza from the place across the street disagreed with me.

A nap and a ginger ale later, I was wandering the streets because the liquor store closest to me did not have the particular brand of local craft brew my roommate asked me to pick up to accompany the tuna croquettes he was making that night.

That’s because I live where this is considered a grocery store. And this. And this.

I don’t live where this is considered a grocery store.

Or this.

Or this, this, this and this.

All those addresses were taken from the official city map used in 2013 to calculate what is and what is not a food desert. A food desert is where people live without access to groceries.

I was showing these to one of my students once. She got very quiet.

“I guess I don’t live in a food desert,” she said.

The press release that accompanied that map talked about the amount of food deserts dropping by 21 percent under Mayor Emanuel.

Even with the Emanuel administration counting places like the Superior Nut and Candy factory store and Solid Gold Food and Liquors as “grocery stores,” there were nearly 80,000 Chicagoans who didn’t live within a mile of a “grocery store” as of 2013.

But not for me. My biggest grocery problems at the moment were was not finding the precise brand of craft beer to pair with tuna croquettes and my increasing certainty the fried egg pizza slice was a bad idea.

So what’s the moral of this story, other than making sure any pizza place that sells novelty fried egg slices has the facilities to fry eggs on premises?

The moral’s that heaven and hell are a few miles apart. Here, I dine on tuna croquette. There, Steve’s Food & Liquor counts as a grocery store.

And somewhere in between, an abuelita shuffling off the bus pays to go to Eataly and does her shopping at Family Dollar.

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And here’s what it’s like to grocery shop on the North Side

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