OP-EDS

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February 26, 2008

Searching for Treasure, sliced prosciutto

[img id="80368" align="alignleft"] My dinner the other night consisted of my favorite hamburgers: thick, juicy balls of chuck, pan-cooked to perfection so as to retain the fat, topped with thinly sliced Granny Smith apples, two slabs of bacon, a generous pile of gouda, and topped with one golden, runny, dripping-down-your-chin gooey egg—all plopped between two slices of fresh-cut ciabatta.

Delicious.

The problem is that obtaining every necessary ingredient requires a trip to the grocery store. In Hyde Park, where the Co-op has recently closed up shop, this poses a bit of a problem. As I contemplated my grocery options, inspiration struck: Why not explore the soon-to-be newest addition to our dormant grocery scene?

Treasure Island (T.I.), handpicked by the University to replace the Co-op, bills itself as “America’s Most European Supermarket”—a claim that I was curious and excited to test in person. After visiting the chain’s location at 680 North Lakeshore Drive, however, I left feeling underwhelmed.

The store makes a point to advertise its “hundreds of imported and domestic cheese, olives, pates, sliced meats, prosciutto and salamis.” As a huge fan of prosciutto, I was excited to read about T.I.’s large selection. What I found, though, was disappointing: It carried only two imported prosciuttos, one of which was rough in texture, the other flavorless.

While I was expecting a fair number of imported goods, I was nevertheless surprised at just how few local goods the store stocks. I like prosciutto di Parma as much as the next guy—OK, that’s a lie: I probably like it much, much more—but it’s important to know the origin of our foods and, if possible, try to purchase a number of them locally. Local foods support community agriculture, save long distance hauls, and are often more sustainable.

But in addition to supporting local farmers, Treasure Island should also support local residents by being a responsible employer. T.I. has the potential to be a unifying force in the community by hiring responsibly and by offering its workers the wages and benefits they deserve.

When I went to Treasure Island my friend and I spoke with the manager in order to better understand what it was like to work there. My friend was urged to apply at the Hyde Park location, which is currently hiring. When questioned about benefits, the manager insisted that the location prefers part-time employees and that benefits are not offered to such workers. It seems surprising that the Hyde Park location is actively recruiting new workers when a large number of former Co-op workers are currently unemployed, but the manager’s comment about part-time work points toward an explanation: Since many Co-op employees depended on full-time salaries and benefits, they will not be able to work at T.I. if it means receiving half the hours and none of the benefits. Furthermore, while the Co-op workers enjoyed union representation, benefits, and job security, Treasure Island controversially ejected a union from its shops in 2004. T.I. is thus likely to screen its new hires for staunch union supporters—which includes longtime Co-op workers.

The manager assured me that the Hyde Park location will be “just like this one,” but to be honest I hope there will be a few differences. Perhaps the new branch will be stocked with flavorful prosciutto di Parma and mountains of cheese. But more importantly, let’s hope that T.I. will provide full-time jobs and employee benefits to fill the void left by the Co-op. The role of a supermarket is not just to facilitate the construction of a tasty burger, but to put food on the tables of its employees as well.

Marybeth Tamborra is a second-year in the College.