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?

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