Summer Dissonance

The heat is on this season in Madison

In early June I told my friend Derrell Connor that I could feel it in my bones: this was going to be one hot and spicy summer. Derrell hosts a weekly talk show called “Outreach” on WIBA-AM, and recently he began writing a column for called “Last I Checked.” Both are terrific; check them out.

Our conversation revolved around the news of the day: Alvin Greene, an unemployed Army vet facing felony obscenity charges who bested a well-known Democrat in South Carolina’s U.S. Senate primary; gangs in Verona sending a nervous wave over the Hometown Days crowd; the excruciating oil spill that won’t stop spewing.

We’re pushing into August, and the heat’s still on. I pull my car over to the side of the road several times a week now as ambulance and fire truck crews fly to and from scenes of emergency. That poor little boy found dead in the Baraboo River; economic news of a recession backslide; the next-door neighbor spraying weed killer with wild abandon on his lawn—and mine—as my kid and my pets romp through the grass. Is this summer season really all that different, or am I?

I’m so grateful when the Northside Farmers’ Market opens every spring because I can’t walk through the grocery store anymore without feeling taunted by the pesticides imbedded in the strawberries my daughter and her friends devour before I can get them out of the container and under the faucet. And phosphorous in dishwasher detergent that nurses algae blooms in the lakes we can no longer safely swim in? Good thing I don’t own a dishwasher (or live on the lake).

For a long time I thought perhaps it was just my neighborhood grocer who was hiding the organic strawberries high on a shelf in a dark corner of the produce section, daring me to find them and then pay an exorbitant price for a plastic bucket of limp, badly bruised—but healthy!—fruit. Once I accidentally paid twelve dollars for a puny bunch of seedless purple grapes. I’m afraid my outraged husband might chisel the epochal blunder on my tombstone if I go first.

Ordinary people, when flummoxed by important questions they are unable to answer for themselves, seek the advice of their mother or a friendly neighborhood elder. Me? I do what all neurotic journalists do: I call an expert. “Why do grocers place organic products so far away from their non-organic counterparts that it’s impossible for a consumer to compare quality and cost?” I asked Brandon Scholz, president of the Wisconsin Grocers Association.

The simple answer, Brandon told me all too matter of factly: “It’s not your store.” Ouch. No wonder his constituents love him. The longer, more complicated answer, he continued, is that grocers like mine carry thousands upon thousands of products.

“You’ve got to have a store format and layout that’s conducive to your customers,” he explained. “I know!” I cried. “I’m a customer, and it’s NOT conducive to drag my cart back and forth across the produce department to price out baby carrots,” I volleyed back at him.

“I think you would hurt sales of organics if you put them in proximity or next to like items,” he countered back. “Well, where I shop, I never have to share the natural foods aisle with another living soul,” I reply. “So I’d say those products are already hurting.”

After a few more friendly point-counterpoints, Brandon doubled back to his original argument, to take care of this co-mingling conversation once and for all. This time, he was swinging for the fences. What if, he suggested, a handful of my customers (magazine readers) told me they’d prefer John Roach’s column up front rather on the back page? If enough of them complained, or heaven forbid canceled their subscriptions, I told him, I’d probably listen.

It’s one hot and spicy summer, alright. Local, organically grown habañero, anyone?

Brennan Nardi is editor of Madison Magazine. Comments and letters can be sent to 7025 Raymond Rd., Madison, WI 53719, or Letters we publish may be edited for space and clarity.

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