Who really cares about small towns?

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So years ago, I remember hearing Bill Maher on Real Time go off on the connections between the food industry, the drug industry and the medical establishment. He was arguing that they’re all in cahoots to make people sick and then make money off of their sickness, and I thought at the time he was kind of crazy. Now I just think he was prophetic and dead-on right.

It’s not Madison Monday, but I thought I’d share some pictures from the protest at the Madison Jay C Store this morning. My brave husband was down there at 10:00 in the 14 degree weather, with quite a wind whipping down the streets. When I made my way down to visit him, I teared up at the sight of him and the other handful of protesters down there (and then I was kind of afraid my tears would freeze, which has always seemed like a scary thing to happen). Democracy in action! It’s a brave, brave act in the world today to put action to your beliefs, and something so few people do. It made me so proud, and after picking up my stepdaughter from her mom’s, we joined until she could no longer feel her chin.

In the article in the Madison Courier (our still independently owned newspaper!), various corporate entities explained their decision to convert the Jay C into a Ruler Foods. Their decision is not specific to Madison; they’re converting Jay C’s to Ruler Foods all over Southern Indiana. Maybe this was supposed to be a comfort; it’s not personal, after all.

One message that seems to be hidden among the corporate-speak is that Kroger and other grocery corporations have decided that small towns and rural areas don’t really need grocery stores. The Center for Rural Affairs documents this trend all across the Midwest and also explains why losing a grocery store is a bad thing for rural communities. First, new residents are less likely to want to move to a place where they can’t buy food for themselves and their families. This is especially bad in areas that are already experiencing population loss. As I’ve said before, elderly folks are also hit very hard by the loss of a grocery store, and especially one like the Jay C which they can walk to. The Center for Rural Affairs also describes the growing number of what they call “food deserts,” or counties where all the residents live more than 10 miles away from a full service grocery store. As far as we know, the Kroger will stay on the hilltop, but that’s no consolation to folks without a car or those who actually like living in a town where they can go for days without having to get in their car.

The other message that Kroger and other corporations seem to be sending is that, all in all, we don’t think that people in small towns actually deserve easy access to healthy food. Ruler Foods sounds like a dumping ground for all the shit that Kroger and Jay C are unable to sell anywhere else. They will still have produce, but less than what they have now. Name brand products will be replaced with Kroger brand, and all the little things about the Jay C that made it a full service grocery store will disappear. Small things, yes, but things that make a difference, like the bins of peanuts and the canning equipment available in the summer and the occasional random vegetable, like leeks, which suddenly show up in the produce section. Take a good look at the little sale aisle that sits to your right when you walk in the Jay C full of all the sale items; multiply that by the whole of the store, and I imagine that is what the Ruler Foods will look like. Cheap food is good; I have no problem with cheap food, but not if it’s also so unhealthy that it kills you and it’s all you have available.

I long ago came to the realization that rural people are the last group in the United States who can be freely made fun of and basically shit upon with no real consequences. Kroger and Jay C are not stupid, they know that. Who cares if people in downtown Madison won’t have access to a grocery store with a nice selection of fresh produce? Who cares if the Ruler Foods will make it much easier to buy the foods that are least healthy? Who really cares if we’re helping along the epidemic of diabetes and other diseases of obesity that are gradually killing rural people and poor people across the country? Nobody really cares what happens to people in rural areas and small towns. Do they?

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