Skip navigation

Chicago Mayor Emanuel: No More Food Deserts

Newly elected Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel had some words of wisdom for food retailers, including Wal-Mart, planning to grow their businesses in the city of Chicago.

Food retailers better have more than a growth plan. They should be prepared to sell and supply inner-city neighborhoods with fresh fruits and vegetables, he warned.

During the annual housewares industry breakfast meeting early this morning, the former Obama administration chief of staff told members of the International Housewares Association that he welcomes Wal-Mart to Chicago as part of the solution to eradicate food deserts. This was in response to a question on how Emanuel feels about small businesses and Wal-Mart coming into Chicago.

“I am bringing in Wal-Mart, Target, Jewel, Dominick’s, Walgreens and all the family-owned grocery stores into my office. They’ll have to lay out to me their citywide plans for the next four years to build growth. You can’t have a major city with 600,000 out of a population of 2.8 million people not have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s bad and it's wrong," he told a capacity audience that showed up at 7 a.m. to hear the mayor speak.

Emanuel mentioned an announcement last week that Save-A-Lot would open 30 stores on the Southwest side of the city. That decision will not only bring in new jobs, but it will be a source of fresh food [in under-served neighborhoods], he pointed out.

“Wal-Mart is part of that [whole food] solution as well as Fresh Market and Aldi,” he said.

Emanuel mentioned that his family lives within a mile of two Wal-Mart stores, a Jewel-Osco and a Trader Joe’s. He finds it “unacceptable” for those that have to drive five miles to buy fresh food.

“I think this is a moral question — let a alone a health question or an economic growth question.”

By selling whole foods to inner-city neighborhoods, everyone wins, said Emanuel. “It’s a win all the way around and you won’t be paying taxes because of the fact that 48 million kids growing up today have type 2 diabetes. That’s ridiculous.”

Emanuel said the problem can be solved with the right policy in place over the long term. “We can solve these health problems and have businesses do well.”

He fully supports First Lady Michele Obama’s healthy eating campaign, and he praised Safeway for its comprehensive wellness program, which is the direction he said he wants to take health reform for those living in Chicago.

In a freewheeling presentation, Emanuel covered some ground from his early political days to his experience in the Obama administration. He described his progressive vision for governing Chicago, which includes health care and fiscal reform and changes in education policy.

He touched on his family life and talked about being a ballet dancer and winning a scholarship to the Joffrey Ballet.

What did he learn from dance?

“Fast foot work, stepping out of problems,” he quipped. “I don’t care if its academic, athletic or artistic. I want every kid to have an opportunity to raise their self esteem and I happen to think the arts is a great way to do it.”

Ballet provided a strong sense of self and confidence, he told the housewares group. He thanked the International Housewares Association for committing to hold the International Home + Housewares Show in Chicagoland for the next five years.