Asparagus disparity: Mountain, molehill or symbol of racial inequality?

In the national response to the Zimmerman trial, at rallies across the country, we hear from the bullhorns the outrage over police profiling minorities in traffic stops, the injustice displayed in our criminal courts and the fear of parents for the safety of their black and Hispanic children.  There have been calls, even from President Obama, for a national discussion of race relations in the United States.

Here in St. Louis, a scandal over dried-out asparagus may offer another symbol of racial inequality.

Recently, a member of the University City Human Rights Commission questioned whether the dried-out asparagus in the produce section of a local supermarket had any relationship to the store’s location in a black neighborhood. The accusation  resulted in a flurry of denials, articles and commentary in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a talk-radio discussion, letters to the editor, and a call Sunday, July 21, 2013 from the Post-Dispatch editor Gilbert Bailon to “please keep some perspective,” that “asparagus rights do not hold cosmic life lessons.”

What lessons can we learn from what is now termed “the asparagus scandal”?

Whether the dried produce at the supermarket in question was only the result of a tray of water that had tipped over or not, the fact remains that the availability and quality of produce, meat and groceries in minority neighborhoods does not resemble that of our more affluent communities. The radio talk-show host [John Carney] said that this issue “got me thinking about the vast difference in produce” between a supermarket in an affluent suburb and another in the City of St. Louis.  A panel member on the radio show remarked that, though some of her colleagues called the asparagus story “silly,” there is a real issue of unequal maintenance of stores depending on where they are located.

Going to the only grocery store convenient to your home and finding a lack of quality produce or meat might not be as “cosmic” as being stopped and having your car searched, or receiving a jail sentence inappropriate to the crime, but it is important nonetheless. Knowing that when you go to a store, you’re getting lower quality food than shoppers in more affluent neighborhoods can make you feel undervalued, unequal, and lesser as a human being.

So, are we making a mountain out of a mole hill with the asparagus story?  The mountain might not be there, but the molehill still exists.  And as moles continue to burrow, they make more hills.  We need to be mindful of the damage that moles cause and make every effort to flatten these hills and create a level playing field for us all.

Mary Clemons (17 Posts)

Mary Clemons, retired but not retiring, moved from being an armchair progressive to becoming an active advocate for issues of social justice. She credits her new found skills in writing and speaking out to Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice. She is immediate past president of the organization.


  • ladyofspain

    Mary, I agree there is more to this than meets the eye. I live near Pacific and shop for groceries there. We have a Queens which is the largest of the 3 places to get groceries. The parking lot is always littered with trash and cig butts. I can’t help but compare it to the Schnucks in Eureka or Washington where they would never allow their parking area to look like that. I have to admit I feel like I live in a low class town with low class people who either throw their cig butts on the parking lot or who put up with it because they don’t think they deserve any better. One good thing: the gal who works the produce aisle keeps everything fresh and well organized. She is also helpful when I have a question. But why do they allow their entrance to look so trashy? I don’t know.
    susan c

  • andy

    Thanks for a well-written and interesting article. I lived in St. Louis 40 or so years ago and the difference in the quality of produce and meats between urban and suburban grocery stores was striking. As best as I can remember, people shopping in the urban stores paid more for the inferior product.

    Speaking of moles and mole hills… We recently installed a small windmill in our garden. The pole that it is attached to is installed in the ground and purportedly (probably not) discourages mole activity. That aside, I hope that as alternative energy becomes more and more a reality lower income people will have as much access to capturing free energy as do more affluent people.