Dollars & Sense

This morning, in the Times Free Press online, I found that the Chattanooga Market will not re-open for its seventh season. This news follows at the heels of news we received about a month ago, that Mia Cucina—Chattanooga’s only cooking store—would close its doors.

In neither case am I the least bit surprised. A weekly grand production of music, art, food, and event deemed Sundays on the Southside, many Sundays the majority of sales seemed to be vendor-to-vendor. Where were the customers?

And Mia Cucina’s closing, in the shadow of a great personal tragedy in the owner’s life, seemed inevitable as the store donned sales strategy after strategy—from cooking demos and on-staff chef; to high-end ware sales; to celebrity-chef, open-and-use foods; to catch-as-catch-can cooking-related gadgets—in an effort to afford mall-area rent.

After a dark few decades of ever-more-processed foods, the 21st century seemed to promise enlightenment. The message organic is normal, organic is what once was—before the innovation of chemical pest-control and commercial farming—pierced the consumer with conviction. The artisan food producer pulled out of the shadows and was plastered on the walls of Wholefoods. But the age of food enlightenment is deterred greatly by the economics of the American checkbook.

When we started Alchemy, I had full faith that folks would pay for what we offered. And they will—if they can afford it. But so many can’t, as Chris and I would-but-can’t afford to shop at the very groceries that carry our products. Yes, many people want to partake of organic, artisan foods, but so many cars need new starters, so many husbands need button-up shirts for the office, so many wives need a good haircut, and so many just need a weekend night-on-the-town to blow off the stress of finances and work and politics.

John Kessler of the Atlanta Journal Constitution offered an article entitled, Tenderloin’s a steal, but at what moral price? which outlined his dilemma of purchasing a superstore’s $34.99 five-pound beef tenderloin, knowing that the tenderloin from an organic, humanly-raised cow would cost $27.99 per pound. Ultimately, the thought of an affordable dinner party was too sexy to pass up, and Kessler received a tongue-lashing from readers in regard to that decision.

Perhaps I’m muddy-ing basic black-and-white ethics with dollars-and-cents, but if this food artisan can’t see the organic apples for the orchard, how might we expect our American families to sink their bucks into heirloom Spitzenberg’s when their kids need school supplies?


Chattanooga Justice or That Crazy Man with the Hair Bag

Jerry, my husband's father, took Chris and I to lunch at Sugar's Big Time Barbeque this afternoon. Sugar's rotisserie chicken is good; the grilled onions with a sprinkling of kosher salt are great. And I appreciate that the restaurant's fleet of lawncare specialists also eat corncobs, wilted heads of cabbage, and nearly anything else you offer--though they snubbed their little goat snouts at the corn bread that I threw into their pen. My only dislike of Sugar's is that they use all disposable serving ware--forks, knives, cups, and plates; it's time folks realize disposable really isn't.

But a break from food for a second: this morning I had to appear in court to "testify" against a guy who stole my license plate. I didn't see him steal my license plate, so I really had very little to offer; however, I was surprised to find that the thief walked only a few streets from his home to steal my plate. What's more, he was caught on February 1 drunk off his ass--slurred speech and his third DUI--driving on a revoked license at twenty-five mph, with a pocket full of marijuana, and sporting my license plate!

That said, perhaps it's just my recent court experience, but there are particularly blurred lines between right and wrong around here. One locally-known and obviously-crazy homeless man--the one with the hair bag--appeared today in court for loitering in the library. The judge asked, "Were you looking for something to read?" Then he sentenced the man to, "Stay away from the library." Meanwhile, Chattanooga's sheriff was arrested last Saturday, caught, hot-handed, holding 22 lbs. of cocaine and distributing weapons to drug dealers.

When Chris and I left the courthouse today and collected the parking ticket from under our wiper--it took two hours before my plate-thief could ask for an extension--I suppose it felt good to know that our eleven bucks would help fund Chattanooga's impeccable justice system which is about as good as throwing our eleven bucks to the trash with our plastic forks or feeding it to Sugar's lawncare crew.



Last night, Chris had a fun idea: serve celebrity chefs the food they put their faces on and see how they score their creations. A little under the weather, Chris requested chicken noodle soup. Without time to make a batch—I’ve used up all the homemade stock in my freezer—I bought him a can of Wolfgang Puck’s Organic Chicken & Egg Noodle Soup. He wasn’t especially impressed with the top chef’s version and proceeded to doctor with Alchemy’s fix-all Easygoin’ Seasoned Salt and pepper.

Tyler Florence and Applebee’s, Rachel Ray and Dunkin Doughnuts: a few million bucks certainly soothes the ego into submission and makes for a happy mug on a menu board.