Michael Romain’s column, “Pete’s Fresh Market and the ‘Matthew’ Principle,” in Wednesday Journal, March 3, deserves more than one reading. It deserves to be studied in classes in high schools and colleges. It deserves to be discussed widely by all who are concerned about the present state and direction of our economic system and values.
When I first heard of the plan for a second Pete’s Fresh Market in Oak Park, I was puzzled about why Oak Park needed or how it could support another supermarket, and wondered how it would impact nearby stores, especially Sugar Beet. I didn’t give it more thought than that. Now I am. Romain puts this one event into the bigger framework of food availability in the western suburbs. He gave me facts I had not known about the food deserts in communities near Oak Park. He then puts that into the still larger picture of how economic decision-making works to create clusters of resources in some places and deficits in other places. We are talking about food, the most basic necessity. We are talking about families and children not having access to fresh food in their own neighborhoods.
Romain puts this example of how our system creates inequality into the moral framework of the Matthew Principle. “Them that’s got shall have; them that’s not shall lose.” Wealth begets wealth, and poverty begets poverty. This is not the society we want, but this is the reality of what we live with as we participate in the institutional inequality of our social and economic systems.
My son-in-law, poet and musician Dan Hanrahan, ties this system to the impact that we know it has on the natural world. He captures the anguish that he and many others feel around the contradiction between the consumerist lifestyle and ecological values:
“Problem is, the longer this economy persists, the more degraded the planet becomes. That, unfortunately, is the design of this particular system. Its persistence is dependent upon our degrading our home and the home of all our fellow beings. This internal dissonance threatens to become overwhelming.”
Thanks to Mr. Romain for his thought leadership, and to Wednesday Journal for creating a dialogue on these most important subjects.
Stephanie Ferrera, Oak Park