The prospect of “cheap eats” begs a mix of skepticism and free-for-all, especially if it receives a contentious number of stars on Yelp.
The same holds true (minus the Yelp part) for former Trader Joe’s president Doug Rauch’s newest initiative to combat malnutrition plaguing low-income, underserved neighborhoods. In May, Rauch will launch The Daily Table, a Dorchester-based supermarket that will exclusively sell “expired” food recovered from supermarkets in the Boston area. The Dorchester branch will be the first of Rauch’s nation-wide campaign—The Urban Food Initiative—to make healthy, “name brand” food affordable while also reducing the amount of food wasted by supermarkets.
Most consumers—myself included—are duped by the supermarket industry that imposes expiration dates as ploys so customers will buy food within a limited time frame and continue to buy food as that time frame wanes. Aesthetics also interfere with consumption. Shoppers are beguiled with elaborate food displays—think cascading mountains of unscathed apples—often stocked with more items than the store can realistically sell. In both cases, perfectly edible food ends up in the garbage.
These dates are relatively arbitrary, mythic benchmarks set by not the FDA, but by manufacturers. And according to the United State Department of Agriculture, supermarkets loose about 47 billion dollars a year on discarded “expired” surplus, most of which is edible.
Unlike other initiatives to remedy malnutrition in undeserved areas, The Daily Table is not a food bank. In fact, it’s more than a supermarket. The Daily Table will specialize in prepared meals, take-away items, and offer cooking classes to customers. Dorchester, a neighborhood that has already embraced sustainable food initiatives, including over 30 community gardens, seems like an ideal community to spearhead Rauch’s movement.
I can’t speak for the people who live in Dorchester, but I can sympathize with those who might oppose The Daily Table. The store’s success is contingent upon Dorchester residences supporting a supermarket that essentially sells food that others—namely those who can afford to shop at Trader Joe’s, Shaw’s, and Whole
Salary Foods—deem “inedible.” That idea perpetuates the false notion that the neighborhood and its residents rely upon those who are “rich” in order to thrive and diminishes the community’s sense of pride, focusing attention on what the neighborhood doesn’t have as opposed to what it does have.
And then there’s the issue of consumption: who will—or better yet should—serve as The Daily Table’s main clientele? I didn’t think about this issue until reading The Boston Globe article in which Rauch equates his project’s goal to that of GoodWill, the used-clothing store whose non-profit business model has been misappropriated by alternative-turned-mainstream youth culture… as I sit here in my “grandpa sweater” that I bought from a thrift store.
Will The Daily Table invite that incessant buzzword—gentrification—to kiss this neighborhood? Maybe it’s an unlikely possibility. The Daily Table is located about a half-mile walk from the Shawmut Red Line T stop. But if you look at a map of the T, the Shawmut stop and the Green Street stop that serves one of Boston’s most gentrified neighborhoods—Jamaica Plain—seem to be equidistant from Downtown Boston. And with the rising prices of real estate, The Daily Table might invite a new wave of young people who will, as the histories of Jamaica Plain, South Boston, even Allston have shown, jump at the prospect of cheaper housing coupled with inexpensive groceries—and then open a local-organic microbrewery.
It’s difficult to claim that one store will transform an entire neighborhood. And it’s even more difficult—more like impossible—to bar certain demographics from spending money where they want to spend it. Consciousness has to be at the forefront of all action. My first action: to go see what Dorchester already has to offer before others try to offer something to it.