Why I don’t donate at the supermarket checkout

You know how it goes when you’re paying at the supermarket and they ask if you want to throw in a buck for Harvest For Hunger and sort of feel like a bad person for saying no?


A lot of people don’t remember that local supermarkets used to make their own donations to food charities instead of asking you to pay at the register. And that didn’t start until they lost several high-profile price fixing lawsuits in the 1980s.

Here’s one, Rosen v. Fisher Foods (1982):

[T]he settlement further provides for a charitable food payment program. Under the provisions of this plan to the extent that Certificates are not redeemed in any given year, the settling defendants will make contributions of food or cash… to charitable organizations that give away food to the needy…. [I]n no year shall these food payments total less than $300,000.

That’s right. The major local supermarket chains colluded to jack up the price of food, got caught, and were forced to settle by handing out literally millions of dollars in dollar-off coupons and making donations to food charities in partial compensation for the harm they caused in so doing.

The amazing thing is that when the settlements were fulfilled, the stores kept making those “donations” but only by soliciting the very same customers they’d been cheating for years. And they have the gall to claim credit for it.

Unbelievably, the supermarket chains found a way to settle a huge liability, call it a public relations win, and get their customer base to pay for it all.

If you want to help, please do! But make your gift directly to the Greater Cleveland Food Bank instead of rewarding the crooked store chains.


Lessons from Memphis’s experiments.

Someone drew my attention recently to this cool street renovation in Memphis: “Memphis’s Spectacular Street Experiments are Moving Toward Permanance!” Exclamation point mine!

There are things to like about this.

It’s a good idea to make the improvements durable but temporary. You can see how it works out in real life before overcommitting.

That inset photo of the “demonstration” phase shows a good practice. Don’t just put bike lanes out and expect everyone to get what they’re about. (Hi, Cleveland.)

Also: It’s pretty.

Now if you want to do something like this in Cleveland, I’m wondering about a few things.

A thing about Cleveland is that we never, ever make driving more inconvenient. Cutting down driving lanes is not acceptable. “And in 2014 the city ran a one-year trial that converted half of an expressway along the Mississippi to a walking-biking path.” <– so not Cleveland

Would a similar project here increase land values in a way that facilitates windfall speculation? Then it would be easy to find a CDC to lead it and provide political cover. (But it would still have to be car-friendly. First things first.)

Sometimes the main impact of a fancy streetscape upgrade is to signal where the favored neighborhood will be. I wouldn’t be surprised if land prices shot up around Marshall and Monroe less because of the actual improvements than because of the signal effect.

From a cyclist’s point of view, this feature only highlights what Cleveland never does. The commitment wasn’t to make cycling safer and easier, it was to put in 70 miles of “bikeways” including ordinary, unprotected, unmaintained, fading lines in the road: “Cleveland plans to add 70 miles of bikeways by the end of 2017.” If the city can claim a victory for sustainability by hitting the 70 mile mark, then they will.

So am I skeptical?

Yeah, I’m skeptical. From this one article, I see a cool design that lends itself to multiple street uses and looks nice.

City planning aficionados like innovative designs and multiple uses. I do too.

But I don’t know how it affects people who already live there, I don’t know what priorities are being neglected to make this happen, and I don’t know who’s profiting from it.

I’m definitely skeptical about translating this pretty design into something practical for Cleveland without consideration of those concerns, plus Cleveland’s obvious inability to maintain a basic level of pavement maintenance and lane striping. It’s cool, but I’m not remotely convinced.