Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Bitter Fruit: A child's plea to the city


My son, Little Locathor, delved into political activism last night, writing his first letter to a political official. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the issue that piqued his ire was food-related.

As many of you have already heard, Chicago's health department engaged in some boneheaded, yet ultimately unsurprising, behavior on Thursday. In the course of a health inspection, the city inspectors destroyed twelve hundred dollars worth of granola bars and seven thousand dollars of frozen local fruit owned by small business owners Sunday Dinner Chicago and Flora Lazar, respectively. This jaw-dropping exercise of waste occurred despite the fact that there was nothing wrong or unhealthful about either the fruit or granola bar. The city’s rationale isn’t entirely clear – it seems that they based their action on the fact that the products had been processed prior to the granting of individual licenses to the businesses in question even though they were operating out of a licensed shared use kitchen, Kitchen Chicago.

I knew that this terrible news would affect my son as the products made by both of these small companies are among his favorites. When he returned from school, I relayed the bad news about the destruction. His eye welled up with tears,
his voice trembled as he asked whether this meant no more granola bars and fruit candies.

Sadness turned to anger and then righteous indignation. How dare the health inspector waste that fruit? Why couldn’t they have allowed the bars to be donated to the people in need? What was the city thinking?

Unfortunately, I had no answers as these questions were swirling about in my head as well.

He then decided he had to do something. First, he suggested that we offer to Flora some of our stock of frozen fruits so that she could start again. Very sweet, I told him, but neither Flora nor SDC received a business license so our supply would not help. I suggested a letter to the editor, which I would transcribe. I should have known that an editor is not a concept with which he is familiar. Instead, he decided to write a letter to the mayor and here it is, spelled phonetically, of course.

Dear Mayor Daley

And the question posed to the health inspectors:

Why Did

Later that evening, we enjoyed the last of our Flora pate de fruits. While delicious, they indeed were a bitter fruit.


  1. I agree. It's a shame that the city could not figure out a better solution. And tell your little guy that I'm with him!

  2. Evenin', Melissa:

    I'm glad to know the little locavore responded to this draconian act by Chicago's Department of Public Health. I, too, was incensed when I first read about the story in Tracy Kellner's Facebook status, prompting me to add my own $0.02 worth:

    "I just tweeted about this story @localfoodwisdom. It has never been more obvious that the Department of Health's malpractice of food safety (apparently due to ignorance of the fundamental principles of food science) is creating significant, adverse consequences for some of our local/artisan food entrepreneurs and purveyors (just ask the Hopleaf's Michael Roper about his experience with inspectors last summer...) Tracy, this may be my cue to get involved. Your thoughts?"
    Friday at 6:27p

    and later:

    "There isn't much any of us individually (or collectively) can do to counter the Byzantine bureaucracy that rules this city, but when institutionalized ignorance begins to mess with the livelihoods of our local food artisans, it is time for collective action... especially in the wake of what went down at Kitchen Chicago earlier today.

    First, we need an attorney (or a legal team that is small-business-savvy); I'll ask a friend for recommendations. Second, we need a subject matter expert on the topics of food science and workplace learning and assessment. I'm-in for both of those.

    Methinks it is time for a comprehensive audit of how (and what) the inspectors in Chicago's Department of Public Health are prepared to perform in their job roles, as the defacto defenders of food safety. Based on what I've read (and seen) in Monica Eng's story on Kitchen Chicago, I suspect there is more than a bit of cognitive dissonance going on in terms of regulations and relative risk to the public, especially in the case of a frozen, low pH food like fruit puree. The video of Mr. Nelson and his colleague pouring bleach solution onto this frozen, packaged product proves their lack of conceptual understanding of the fundamental causes of foodborne illness.

    Hypochlorite and hyper-reaction. It's time for collective action to protect the local food artisans/entrepreneurs in Chicago."
    Friday at 11:33pm

    Let's chat about organizing a collective response soon. Thanks!


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