After the recent inclement weather, Portland once again proved that it values property over people.
On Feb. 16, according to several news outlets, multiple people reported employees guarding thrown-out food at the Hollywood West Fred Meyer location. When bystanders started filming videos and taking pictures of the food that had been disposed of shortly after the power went out, police were called to the scene. This was a decision made by the local franchise.
This picture alone illustrates the problem. Underpaid employees were expected to protect the property that a company gave up, simply because they could no longer profit from it. When activists came to the store, they planned to redistribute the food in community fridges, but were met by Portland Police Bureau officers. This exchange exemplifies how police function as an arm of the state, a state that serves private property rather than people in need.
Many have justified the behavior of the store and the police involved due to food safety concerns. Kroger, Fred Meyer’s parent company, responded to a tweet criticizing the store’s actions saying, “Our store team became concerned that area residents would consume the food and risk foodborne illness, and they engaged local law enforcement out of an abundance of caution.” Another statement pointed to an Oregon Health Authority (OHA) fact sheet that gives guidance on foodborne illnesses in case of power outages for “licensed establishments.”
However, the OHA guidelines are not as stringent as Kroger suggests. Once the power went out, the backup generator at the location activated, so the food’s temperature likely did not rise above the 41-degree temperature threshold that is used as a guideline. Even if the food did increase to the threshold, the fact sheet recommends an assessment of the food products at this point, rather than simply throwing them out. It was also below freezing outside for the duration that the food was in the dumpster.
For a large corporation like Kroger, it makes perfect sense to throw out all of the risky food products because the cost to replace them is much less than the liability of lawsuits, even if the food is still safe. The company expressed wishes to donate the food in their statement, though they were unable to do so given hazardous driving conditions.
They also mentioned their Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation, a social impact plan which donates meals to food banks. Despite the good intentions of the program, it seems to exist to placate liberal concerns. Kroger has made recent headlines on its union busting. Most recently, the Washington Post reported that Kroger would close more stores when Seattle mandated $4 per hour hazard pay for pandemic workers. Clearly, the company’s priority is capital, despite its claims to care about food insecurity and social justice.
Fortunately, after police left the dumpster, those standing by took a significant amount of food to various community fridges across the city. But the question of what to do next still remains. For example, should Lewis & Clark students shop somewhere else, so as to not support the company, after this incident? Unfortunately, many LC students do not have an option to shop elsewhere. The Pioneer Express only stops at Fred Meyer and Zupan’s Market, the latter being out of the price range for many students.
This brings into question whether or not the Pioneer Express should stop somewhere else. Well, I am not exactly sure. Safeway, Target and many other grocery stores are just as greedy and cruel as Fred Meyer and its parent company Kroger. While I know many students, including myself, would appreciate increased variety in grocery store options, as long as these chains are the only options, these problems will persist.
That is not to say we should do nothing. Rather, this means that even more action needs to take place. I encourage my fellow students to donate to community fridges when they can and engage in as many alternative food sourcing practices as possible, such as gardening.
While this does not eliminate the structural issues of capitalism, mutual aid and learning to rely on processes outside of capitalism are two ways to ease labor exploitation. These processes simultaneously allow preparation for more radical change. In order to move beyond capitalism, we need to establish alternative community-based living to both envision a post-capitalist future and provide support during transition.
This article presents opinions held by the author, not those of The Pioneer Log and its editorial board.