To the editors.
I didn't know that the Rainbow Grocery had closed until I read about it in the July 15 Reader. It's been some months since I last stopped in there, maybe even a year. Partly because it's out of my way to travel there, but mostly because, as Pamela Jameson's excellent article points out, nowadays you can get a great many of the same foods all over town.
Ms. Jameson cites tahini, rice crackers, tabbouleh salad, herbal tea, Mountain High yogurt, organic produce, naturally raised poultry, and natural soft drinks as examples of products which were unheard of back when Rainbow opened its doors, and are now routinely available at the large chain food stores. Additional products that could be mentioned include sprouts (alfalfa, mung bean, and others); couscous; a large variety of non-white breads; most low-sodium products; natural cereals and granolas; fresh-squeezed juice; brown and wild rices--the list goes on and on.
Some of these foods have become so thoroughly integrated into the mainstream American diet that it's hard to imagine they were once considered offbeat. Yogurt, for example, is so utterly commonplace today that it's a shock to look back and recall that 20 years ago it was virtually unknown to the general public.
So while Rainbow's closing may indeed signify the end of an era, it is anything but a failure; on the contrary, it is a success story of stunning proportions. The founders in the late Sixties and early Seventies of what were then considered "alternative" enterprises were animated (at least in part) by a desire to change the world, to transform the face of our society. If stores like Rainbow are going out of business now, it is because they have accomplished their mission so thoroughly that they are no longer so desperately needed as they once were.
I don't mean to sound Pollyannaish here. The world is still a shit hole, in many ways worse than ever. Even just in terms of the health-food boom itself, we have seen some developments which are downright laughable, and others for which we might be more inclined to weep. (An example of the former: those gooey chocolate-dipped granola bars. Of the latter: the advertising industry's cynical exploitation of the words "natural" and "organic" to the point where those terms lost any meaning or value.) And certainly the quality of the raw produce at the food chains is nowhere near what Rainbow's was.
But high-quality produce is still available at small produce markets such as Tony's on Southport. And in spite of all the shortcomings and limitations in the systems by which our foods are produced and distributed, the fact remains that we have many healthful and nutritious options readily available today, which we would not have found or even heard of 15 or 20 years ago. That in itself is a triumph.