Cooking. I enjoy it almost as much as I enjoy eating. For me, food, cooking, and breaking bread with friends and family are not the endgame, together they’re a means to an end: bringing people together to explore or deepen relationships through a shared experience. For me, food, cooking, and breaking bread with friends and family are not the endgame, together they’re a means to an end: bringing people together to explore or deepen relationships through a shared experience.
Most families have food traditions for holidays. Barbecued chicken and ribs, baked beans, coleslaw, and potato salad are staples for our Fourth of July gatherings. Like most families, we feast on turkey, dressing, green beans, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, homemade cranberry sauce, and my mother’s sweet potato pie. And what’s New Year’s Day without black-eyed peas and ham hocks with a brick of cornbread?
When I was a kid, our Saturday morning ritual included cartoons and a bowl of cereal, while my father grocery shopped for our family. His return from Winn Dixie with a car full of groceries coincided with the afternoon broadcast of professional wrestling and “Soul Train.” I remember him cooking live crabs and the family feasting on them until we thought our stomachs would burst.
If music is the soundtrack of my life, then food traditions are the menu. It’s one way I show love and caring. When family or close friends are under the weather, I go to the New York Times Melissa Clark’s recipe for chicken soup. It’s all about the leeks, people. Or when someone’s going through an especially rough patch, cranberry-orange scones with a side lemon curd always seems to do the trick. Finally, after several attempts, I can now add cinnamon rolls with a generous drizzle of cream cheese icing to my repertoire.
My point is, when done correctly, food has the power to nurture people and facilitates indelible memories.
It wasn’t until after I graduated from college and moved out on my own that I began fending for myself in the kitchen and frequenting grocery stores. Cooking was more of a necessary evil and food was simply fuel. A trip to a Publix—involved running in, grabbing the basics, some beer, and getting out as fast as possible.
I didn’t get into cooking until I moved to southern California. Food is a religion there and grocery stores are cathedrals. The restaurants—the magic they work with food is amazing. Since I couldn’t afford to eat out all the time, I learned to recreate a couple of my favorite dishes at home.
Hello, Vons, Ralphs, and the ubiquitous Trader Joe’s.
A whole new world of food shopping experiences opened up to me. Don’t get me wrong, Florida has good produce, but the way grocery stores presented food, the selection, and those wild sprayer/mister gadgets that kept vegetables wet and shiny blew my mind. You never really need sprayers in Florida, not with an average daily humidity of 120%.
What with viewing parties, brunches, and the like, I had to develop some cooking skills—stat. I picked up techniques from everyone I met. One friend of mine, a native Californian, showed me how to make guacamole. An Italian friend of mine, Flavio from Bologna, introduced me to the wonder of what he called “peasant cooking” that rivaled top restaurants in L.A. Buon appetito!
Upon my return to Florida some ten years later, the closest thing to the sexy “markets” in southern California was Publix. Don’t laugh, but Orlando got its first Whole Foods, maybe five or six years after I moved back in the late aughts and Trader Joe’s maybe three years ago. I love those stores, but budget mandates I shop in a store that’s more wallet-friendly. For my everyday needs, I shop at Publix and have religiously. Until a few weeks ago.
On January 6, white supremacists, Confederate sympathizers racists, anti-Semites, holocaust deniers, and assorted bigots overran, and assorted other bigots attended the “Save America” rally. While legislators began certifying the results of the 2020 election, the rally-attended descended upon the U.S. Capitol, breached that outer barricades, out-numbered and over-powered the Capitol police, and attempted to overthrow the government. You’ve seen the footage and photos. It looked like something straight out of Game of Thrones.
After the insurrectionists had their fill of vandalizing the Capitol, smearing feces on the walls and urinating in the halls, and hunting for Vice President Mike Pence so they might lynch him, the terrorists packed up their guns, weapons, and what-not, and left First Street Northeast the nonchalance of clocking out after a hard day’s work. Unfortunately, when their invitation-only, red-white-and-blue cosplay adventure was over, it is estimated that four rioters and one police officer were killed, close to 140 police officers were seriously injured, and two Capitol police officers committed suicide days after the terrorist attack.
That this level of disregard for life, property, law and order hit me like a punch to the gut. Discovering that Julie Jenkins Fancelli, heiress of Publix founder George W. Jenkins, made a $300,000 contribution specifically for the January 6 rally, hit me like a good left hook. Given that those who attended the rally were members of domestic terrorist groups who endorse and perpetrate the worst forms of racism, misogyny, homophobia, bigotry, and hate crimes against people who look like me, I found Fancelli’s donation problematic on a fundamentally existential level. At that point, continuing to give Publix Super Markets my money became untenable.
When the news came to light Publix tried to distance itself from Francelli with a feeble press release. I felt very much betrayed. As if all the ads, all the personable employees, and good service were all a giant ploy working together to bring me to my undoing, to be sacrificed on the altar of white supremacy. That a Publix beneficiary would fund an attempt to overthrow the government struck me as hypocritical. If the insurrectionists had their way, they’d burn everything down and squabble over who’d rule the ashes—including Publix. To those who say it’s not fair to punish the employees for something someone who doesn’t have any ties to the company did. My decision isn’t about punishing the employees. This is about dollars and sense. It doesn’t make sense for me to give my hard-earned dollars to a company whose founders endorse policies that are detrimental to my existence.
There are those who say, “But Fancelli isn’t involved in the day-to-day operations of Publix and Publix has offered no direct support for Fancelli’s actions.”
What people fail to recognize is that actions have consequences. My patronage, the profits created, dividends earned, Fancelli’s inheritance, as well as her donation, do not exist in separate vacuums. Millions of people like me helped make Publix profitable through our patronage which produced the profits that made their dividends possible. If it was the Safeway or Piggly Wiggly heiress who donated, you wouldn’t be reading the article as I haven’t spent a dime in their stores.
And we can’t forget those who cry, “But Publix donates thousands of dollars to charities.”
Riddle me this, Batman: How good are donations if the donating organization purports to be about family while at the same time they’re funding groups that work to kill marginalized people. They can’t have their cake and eat it, too. That is hypocrisy in its purest form. And if it comes down to protecting only white families, that’s the height of racist hypocrisy. What we have is the equivalent of expecting German Jews to support Nazi organizations. Plain and simple, it’s not in their best interest to do so.
Ultimately, if the company is truly concerned about her father’s legacy, the company’s standing or the well-being of their employees in 1,200 stores across Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, the company would take steps to shore up their name. But as of this writing, only a tepid statement has been released to the press release.
The sad part in all of this is that it’s the employees who really made my shopping fun: Steve the restaurateur turned fishmonger who always pointed out the best cuts of meat and shared secrets on how to prepare them, Chuck the butcher, Sharon the cashier, the produce guys, and the manager who introduced me to Soy Vey marinade.
Fancelli’s donation funded an insurrection to overthrow the U.S. government, specifically the results of a free and fair election. An insurrection in which property was desecrated, Capitol police were beaten, injured, abused, maimed—some permanently, and murdered during an insurrection an environment roiling in fomented hate whose goal was to uphold white supremacy by disenfranchising the votes of millions of People of Color.
Many white readers won’t understand my position because their experience with racism and bigotry is far-removed from mine. But for me, this is an existential matter. It’s potentially life and death. Publix employees might lose their job, but I or one of my beloveds might lose our life because of the Fancelli connection. People can get another job. Lives don’t come as easily.
What’ll it take to change my mind? My mind doesn’t need to be changed. Racism and hate are non-negotiables in my book. Hate groups are flourishing in the Sunshine State. If their presence and negative impact matter a scintilla to the Publix Super Markets, they should work to repair the breach created by Francelli’s funding by funding counter-initiatives that support marginalized matching her donation in underserved areas. I just need a public display that they’re aware of the betrayal of trust inflicted upon its customers, that they value all their customers in their human-ness, and support their effort individual and group efforts at deepening relationships and forging memories . . . just like their commercials have led customers to believe.
Love one another.