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Photo: Trader Joe’s.
Each of the grocery chain’s 500-plus locations “has custom-made signage, created by staff artists,” says the Post.

They don’t get paid much, but it’s unusual for artists to have a steady gig with benefits. According to Kelsey Ables at the Washington Post, a lot depends on which of the independent Trader’s Joe’s markets you’re working at.

“Growing up,” Ables reports, “Zoe Terrell dreamed of becoming an artist — she sketched scenes from her local farmers market and even won drawing competitions in her native South Korea. But she eventually learned what many creative people know too well. ‘My dad was like, “Well, drawing is not going to feed you,” ‘ Terrell says.

“So she studied education in college and, after moving to the United States in 2008, taught Korean — that is, until a curious job listing caught her eye.

“An ocean away, Terrell called her dad with surprising news: ‘Hey, guess what, Dad? Now, drawing is going to feed me,’ she recalls with a laugh.

“Terrell is one of hundreds of sign artists employed by grocery store Trader Joe’s. You probably know the idiosyncratic chain for its eccentric snacks and peppy cashiers, but that festive atmosphere extends to the stores’ interior design, too: Each of the 500-plus outposts has custom, handmade signage, all created by staff artists. Your grocery store is their art gallery.

“As what Trader Joe’s calls a ‘crew member with sign making talent’ (we’ll just call them sign artists), Terrell, 40, spends much of her workday at the Athens, Ga., store wielding a paint pen in a backroom studio. She makes signs to promote products with puns like ‘Hot Grill Summer‘ and creative drawings such as the Powerpuff Girls reimagined as vegetables. She paints murals that represent the local area, University of Georgia sports teams or the surrounding rural landscape. Occasionally, she gets to incorporate Korean lettering into her work, such as when the store got a shipment of scallion pancakes known as ‘pajeon.’ That was a highlight for Terrell — Korean students told her that seeing the Hangul writing made them feel a little more at home.

“Terrell says that in her early days in the United States, she sorely missed Korean grocery stores, where employees knew her family and each store had its own character.

“ ‘Especially when I moved to the U.S., everything seemed like it had been kind of standardized. You go to Walmart in New York or you go to Walmart out in the boonies in Georgia, and they look exactly the same,’ she says. ‘Trader Joe’s is just throwing a totally different curveball.’ …

“Trader Joe’s calls itself a ‘national chain of neighborhood grocery stores.’ And everything seems to have a human touch: from sweeping murals of local landmarks, which can stay on view for years, all the way down to individual price tags telling you that clementines are $5.99 and ‘great for the road!’ But for the artists, the work isn’t just about selling produce or marketing the latest peppermint-coated, jalapeno-infused, almond-butter-filled whatever. It’s a way to channel their artistic energy in a world that doesn’t make being creative easy. While job postings list pay for sign artists starting as low as $14 an hour, for many, it’s the stable art job they never thought they’d have.

‘I always tell everybody, it’s probably the best entry-level artist position that has a steady paycheck, good benefits and everything,’ says Dan Kaufeldt, a 35-year-old sign artist in Sacramento, who has been with the company for 16 years.

“Kaufeldt’s store decor combines comic book energy with meticulous detailing. For Thanksgiving, he painted a smooth-looking Turkey named DJ Gravy Grav who mixes ‘All about that Baste’ on a turntable, while spring break this year inspired an image of a cartoon lemon, strawberry and potato going on a road trip in a bouncing, orange RV.

“For many Trader Joe’s sign artists, going all out is part of the fun. At one of the Philadelphia stores, McKinna Salinas, 25, is working on transforming the bathroom into a parody of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, inspired by works from the museum collection such as Severin Roesen’s ‘Flower Still Life With Bird’s Nest.’ In her version of Winslow Homer’s ‘The Life Line,’ a man is seen dangling above stormy seas — but instead of saving a woman, he’s saving a carrot. …

“Trader Joe’s rarely advertises. It doesn’t have coupons. It avoids the words ‘sale’ or ‘cheap.’ The atmosphere is deliberately friendly. …

“As for the signs, ‘the handcrafted quality emphasizes the personal relationship,’ says Mark Gardiner, a former marketing executive who worked at Trader Joe’s while researching his book Build a Brand Like Trader Joe’s, which unpacks how the chain attracted a cultlike following. ‘It’s the graphic equivalent of that cheerful conversation that you’ll have with a total stranger that’s working there, who sees you buying dog food and asks you what kind of dog you have.’

“While working at the downtown Minneapolis Trader Joe’s, Georgia Gump took that idea to its extreme: The 25-year-old artist made a window mural featuring the neighborhood’s dogs. It was a big hit.

“But for Gump, who left the store in May, the early excitement of working at Trader Joe’s faded fast. That particular Minneapolis store is now trying to unionize for better wages and benefits (a store in Hadley, Mass., became the first Trader Joe’s to unionize last month), and Gump says it has been plagued by bad management. Gump hit a breaking point after breezing through the installation of an elaborate, handcrafted Christmas village.

“ ‘At first I was really excited that I did it in less than two hours,’ Gump says. ‘Then, it hit me that installing this piece of art cost the company less than $30.’ …

“Some artists have used the job as a jumping-off point. Gump now does sign commissions and pet portraiture around town. Salinas recently made a piece for NASA that will be featured on a satellite. Terrell says, ‘Trader Joe’s became my self advertisement.’ “

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Pattie Mitchell via Upsplash
You can help reduce global warming when you think twice about the food you buy.

The pandemic has hurt my tentative efforts to help the global climate by cutting back on lamb and beef. This sounds lame, but with online ordering, I feel less able to be creative about meatless meals. I need to see the produce up close, not the market’s idealized photo. Guess I better get over that: online shopping looks like being my mode for quite a while yet.

Meanwhile, as Ali Withers reports for the Climate Solutions initiative at the Washington Post, a Danish grocery chain is making it easy for customers to watch their carbon footprint.

A major supermarket chain in Denmark is offering shoppers something extra at checkout: an estimated amount of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from their groceries.

“COOP DK, the Danish cooperative that controls one-third of the country’s grocery market, says it is trying to educate consumers with an eye toward nudging them to cut back on meat and dairy, two categories of food that produce the most greenhouse gasses linked to climate change. …

“Shoppers can use an app that gives them a personalized carbon footprint tracker that displays roughly how much CO2 it took to produce the tomatoes, yogurt or cold cuts in their baskets. The tracker, which rolled out in June, also allows customers to compare their footprint to the average shopper.

“ ‘What people need to understand is just that animal-based products have a higher [climate] impact,’ said Thomas Roland, who leads corporate social responsibility for COOK DK. …

“Animal agriculture is a major source of both carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gasses that are driving the rapid warming of the planet, scientists say. …

“Since the stores stock more than 100,000 items, they took a few shortcuts by selecting a benchmark item — 2.2 pounds of white rice, for example — to be representative of all types of rice because, as Roland explained, the variations in rice production, transportation and packaging are relatively small. Similarly, all pork is counted in the same way, regardless of farming methods. …

“So far, 21 percent of the chain’s 1.2 million app users have checked their carbon footprint, Roland said. …

“When they first discussed the idea of a carbon tracker, top executives at COOP DK were concerned that it could affect the chain’s bottom line. …

“Roland said, ‘Our biggest concern was that we “chased” some customers out of our shops only to find that they buy all their meat at competitors. But that, luckily, doesn’t seem to be the case. Curiosity wins, as customers actually want to see the footprint of their total basket and not “cheat.” ‘

“The average Dane is responsible through his or her food choices for the emission of about 6,614 pounds of CO2, or 18.1 pounds a day, according to COOP DK.

“That’s almost six times the amount recommended by the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet and Health. The commission’s 2019 peer-reviewed study by 37 scientists found that a person’s nutritional CO2 footprint should be closer to 3.1 pounds per day, if humanity is to prevent the average global temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050. …

Barnemad, a cooking site that displays the CO2 equivalence of a recipe’s ingredients, is among a growing number of ‘climate cookbooks’ that are part of a Danish trend to promote low-carbon eating, organic foods and nutrition. …

“Leading meat and dairy suppliers are cautiously welcoming the footprint tracker, although it could result in a decrease in sales. …

“The pork producer Danish Crown doesn’t oppose climate footprint trackers, its top executive said. ‘It’s early days for these tools,’ said Jais Valeur, CEO of Danish Crown, which also exports meat to China, Japan and Britain. ‘But still, it’s a sign of what’s going to come here on the climate path, and we need to pay attention to this. It’s not like we’re against it. Meat has become so cheap here in Europe and in the Western world, and there you see an overconsumption.’ …

“Both [dairy producer] Arla and Danish Crown are trying to reduce their carbon emissions and position their products as low-carbon.

“Arla is aiming to shrink its CO2 footprint by 30 percent by 2030. And Danish Crown says it will halve CO2 emissions from the 12.5 million pigs it raises and slaughters in Denmark by 2030. The company is setting up baselines and individual climate plans for each of its pig farmers. …

“Farmers, for the most part, are embracing the opportunity to lower their carbon footprint, although, as Valeur notes, there are no financial incentives. …

“Kim Kjær Knudsen is a third-generation pig farmer who is trying to cut carbon emissions from his farm of 100,000 pigs outside Copenhagen. He has invested in biogas projects, reduced the acidity of his slurry, installed new ventilation systems and is buying more local feed.

“ ‘I think this will define my future in the next 10 to 15 years,’ Knudsen said. ‘It’s important to make some steps now [that] will move us in a good direction … if I can put a calculation on my meat to say, “Actually, we can produce meat here in Denmark that is 50 to 80 percent better for the environment than they can do somewhere else in the world.” ‘ “

Gotta love those Danes — ahead of the curve on so many good things! How do they do it? More at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: Larry McCormack/The Tennessean
Jackie Vandal, assistant manager at a Kroger market in Nashville, hugs LaShenda Williams, a woman hired by Kroger after sleeping in its parking lot for a year. Williams now has her own apartment.

I attended a high school that had us memorize Bible verses. In the story of the Prodigal Son — who “took his journey into a far country and there wasted his substance with riotous living” — a few simple words have always meant the most to me. “And when he came to himself, he said … .”

Those words are powerful because, in my view, it really takes a lot for a desperate person to say, “I can do something about this.”

So in the story of the homeless woman who had disabilities and had fought off addiction, I’m most impressed with the moment she got up the courage to ask about a job. True, the hiring manager at the market where she’d been sleeping outside for a year showed compassion, but the real turning point was the homeless woman’s fearful but brave decision to ask.

Cathy Free reports at the Washington Post, “LaShenda Williams woke up in a grocery store parking lot last year after another restless night in her car. On the window of the supermarket, she spotted a new flier.

“The East Nashville Kroger store where she had been living in her car for almost a year was advertising a job fair. Williams, 46, who has a learning disability and has difficulty reading or writing — and also had been addicted to drugs — saw meaning in the flier. …

“Williams went inside the store, as she did every day, to say hello to the employees. But this time, she gathered her courage and asked the hiring manager: ‘Maybe I could work here one day. You got room for me?’

“The manager, Jacqueline Vandal, said she’d help Williams fill out the application. Vandal sat with her patiently and helped her answer all of the questions on her application, then submit them on Williams’s laptop computer. When a prompt came up, informing Williams that she’d successfully applied, Vandal immediately gave her the good news: ‘You’re hired.’

‘I couldn’t believe it — I hugged her and cried,’ said Williams, who has been homeless off and on in Nashville for several years. ‘It was overwhelming. Somebody gave me a chance.’

“Vandal, 56, said Williams’s persistence in filling out the application tipped the scales in her favor.

“ ‘LaShenda had the right attitude, and I knew I needed to give her a shot,’ Vandal said. …

“In May, after working for five months as a self-checkout associate, Williams saved enough money to get a small place of her own. Co-workers and customers rallied to collect household items for her one-bedroom apartment, said Williams, and after her story was featured on Kroger’s website and in Nashville’s Tennessean last month, offers of help poured in. …

“Verlenteez Williams [no relation], who runs a food prep and catering company in Nashville, said he wasn’t surprised that people were eager to step up. ‘We were all feeling empty from the uncertainty of the times,’ he said. ‘All we really have are each other.’

“Until she put on her uniform and reported for work at Kroger, LaShenda Williams said, she felt for years that she had no one. …

“ ‘I walk with a limp because I have cerebral palsy, and I had a tough time getting hired anywhere, so I just did odd jobs like housecleaning,’ Williams said. ‘When I finally got treatment for my addiction, I couldn’t afford a place of my own. I’d live from place to place or stay in abandoned houses.’

“It was late 2018 when Williams decided to park her 2015 Kia Forte in the Kroger parking lot.

“ ‘It was open 24 hours and the lot was always lit up at night,’ she said. ‘I figured I’d be safe there.’ “

Read more at the Washington Post, here.

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indigenous-grocery-language

Photo: CBC News
Canadian grocery stores and art galleries are starting to include indigenous languages on their labels. North West Company, which has grocery stores in more than 120 communities across northern Canada, embraced the idea after it was piloted by a 2015 school project. Snapping QR codes lets you hear word pronunciation, too.

Yesterday, for the first time, Native American women were elected to Congress: in Kansas, a Ho-Chunk, and in New Mexico, a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe. Of course, it’s about time, but it also seems to be part of a trend bringing more visibility to indigenous people. Very belated, but good.

Canada is actually farther along in trying to address and rectify transgressions against First Nations. The following story covers one aspect of that effort.

Judith H. Dobrzynski writes at the Art Newspaper, “Canada Day, 1 July, [ushered] in a new era for the presentation of Modern and contemporary Canadian art at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in Toronto. The 13,000 sq ft J.S. McLean Centre for Indigenous and Canadian Art — which added the ‘Indigenous’ to its name last year when the museum established a Department of Canadian and Indigenous Art — [has] reimagined galleries that give primacy to First Nations and Inuit art for the first time.

“In each McLean gallery, ‘contemporary indigenous art starts the conversation with Canadian art.’ says Wanda Nanibush, who became the AGO’s first curator of indigenous art in 2016. Nanibush and Georgiana Uhlyarik, the AGO’s curator of Canadian art, have designed the centre’s display of 75 works around six themes: origins, self, land, water, transformations and ‘indigenous2indigenous.’ …

“Works by Canadian artists such as Emily Carr and Florence Carlyle are hung in dialogue with works by indigenous artists including Carl Beam and Rebecca Belmore … For instance, in the ‘self’ gallery, Belmore’s ‘Rising to the Occasion’ (1987-91), a dress that the Anishinaabe-kwe artist wore in a performance responding to a royal visit to Ontario, is paired with Joanne Tod’s painting ‘Chapeau Entaillé’ (1989) of a woman in a similar dress. … Labels in the McLean Centre are now written in indigenous languages (either the local Anishinaabemowin language or Inuktitut), as well as English and French.”

More at the Art Newspaper, here.

Art: Rebecca Belmore
Belmore’s “Rising to the Occasion” (1987-91) is a dress that the Anishinaabe-kwe artist wore in a performance responding to a royal visit to Ontario. It was recently displayed at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.

303_mu_jd_ago_01_rebecca_belmore

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Here’s an upbeat story about the contributions of immigrants.  It relates to an area of Erie, Pennsylvania, that got a shot of adrenaline when entrepreneurial refugees began opening markets to serve various ethnicities.

Erika Beras reported at PRI radio’s The World, “Much of Erie, Pennsylvania is a food desert — people don’t have easy access to fresh or nutritious food. But [stores] run by refugees are popping up and making a big difference.

“At UK Supermarket, Samantha Dhungel pulls bags of vegetables out of the freezer. In her cart are onions and eggplant, but she pulls out a vegetable she only knows by its Nepali name. It’s a leafy green that her Nepalese husband uses in his cooking. …

“Before this store opened two years ago, there were a couple convenience stores and a few fast food spots around. All of them sold food that wasn’t nutritious, says Alex Iorio. She’s the public health educator for the Erie Department of Health. She says this place is different. …

“Most of the stores carry fresh foods and whole-grain items. Before, if people in the neighborhood wanted fresh vegetables, cornmeal or nuts, they’d have to drive across town or to the suburbs.

“Then two years ago, Pradip Upreti, a Nepalese refugee, opened UK Supermarket. … He wasn’t trying to solve the food desert problem — none of the store owners were. They just wanted refugees in Erie, who make up 10 percent of the city, to have access to specific foods.

“People would drive distances and buy up items like jackfruit and halal pizza. Then they’d resell those items to people in their community. Upreti saw a business opening there. …

“Upreti’s store carries mostly South Asian foods. Across the street is an Iraqi owned store that carries lots of spices. Around the corner, another Iraqi store specializes in fish and meats like lamb and goat. And there are well over a dozen more stores like them.” More here.

Many immigrants become small business owners. Happily for their neighbors and other people who enjoy foods from around the world, some of them open grocery stores.

Photo: Erika Beras
Pradip Upreti, center, stocks shelves in his Erie, Pennsylvania store, UK Supermarket.

 

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