Sunday, April 24, 2016

Supporting efforts to provide affordable, healthy food



Almost exactly three years ago, I wrote about some efforts to get affordable food to people who might be in need.

One was The Daily Table, a nonprofit grocery store founded by Doug Rauch, the former president of Trader Joe's. The Daily Table buys excess groceries from other suppliers and passes on the savings to its customers who have a wide variety of groceries and prepared foods from which they can choose to buy.

Fresh fruit, prepared foods, packaged goods, and other items can be purchased at well below the typical price a full-scale, for-profit grocery store (or a Trader Joe's) might charge. The goal is to provide nutritious food that is affordable regardless of the customers' budget.

At the time, I wrote about these efforts that if the desire is to help those who are considered poor, but does so in a way that doesn't stigmatize them, but instead emboldens dignity with businesses that attract all segments of the economy, then they're doing the right thing.

The first Daily Table opened in Dorchester, Mass., in June 2015, with plans to expand to other locations in the Boston area and other cities around the country.

Now that The Daily Table is in full swing, a reader, C.C., asks if it's wrong for her, a well-paid professional to shop there. She and her family can afford to buy groceries at full-price stores, so she wonders if she should allow others more in need to take advantage of the great buys at the store. In other words, is it wrong for her to take advantage of an initiative that seems to have been started to help those less well-off economically than she is.

C.C. should shop at The Daily Table with a clear conscious. If the store has any hope of survival and competing against full-priced grocery stories, it is going to need the support of the entire community. As long as C.C. pays the asking price and is pleased with the groceries she buys -- which she says she is -- she is doing the right thing.

In fact, if The Daily Table begins to be viewed as a place that is only for "poor people," then the risk of it becoming stigmatized as somehow inferior to full-price groceries is greater. That C.C. and other customers sing the praises not only of The Daily Table's prices, but also the quality of its food and its services bodes well for the venture.

I live in Dorchester, two miles away from the first Daily Table location. Three years ago, I closed my column by writing that when the first Daily Table opened that I hoped to be among the first to shop there and that I hoped others of all levels of income followed. My wife, Nancy, who, as part of her therapy practice counsels families on how to eat healthy, beat me to it and came home a few months ago with several bags of wonderful produce and groceries, as well as reports of a great and helpful staff. She's returned several times since. I hope C.C. and others do the right thing and continue to shop there as well. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2015 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.



Sunday, April 17, 2016

How wisely should I choose my recommenders?



As high school students continue to receive letters from college admissions offices, I continue to receive questions from readers about recommendation letters. The latest is from a college student who is applying to graduate schools. Let's call him, Francis.

Francis is in his final year of college. He decided last fall to apply to graduate schools. He put together his list of professors he wanted to ask for recommendations. Among those was a professor, let's call him Professor Wilson, with whom he says he learned quite a bit and had a good rapport.

While an undergraduate, Francis was committed to working hard, but also to taking advantage of all his college had to offer in the way of extracurricular activities. Professor Wilson was well-known for his strict attendance policy and insistence that assignment deadlines be met.

On at least two occasions, Francis missed class to attend a special lecture on campus that conflicted with class time and so he could go on an out-of-town field trip. Francis did solid work for Professor Wilson's class, but he was a week late submitting his final paper.

Francis ended up receiving a B for the class -- not a terrible grade, but not the grade he might have received if he hadn't been absent or late.

Still, he had a good relationship with Professor Wilson and believed he understood him and his work well. So last fall he asked Professor Wilson to write one of his letters of recommendation. Professor Wilson agreed to get the recommendation letters in on time.

Now, Francis is having second thoughts.

"Was it wrong for me to assume that my professor would focus on my strengths in the recommendation letter and leave out the incidents leading to my lower grade in his class? Was it wrong to ask him to write me a letter?"

It wasn't wrong for Francis to ask Professor Wilson to write him a recommendation letter. But Francis should not have assumed that his professor would gloss over any of his academic shortcomings in his assessment on his student. Once he agreed to write the letter, Professor Wilson is obligated to write an honest and thorough assessment and to answer any questions posed by the institutions to which Wilson is applying.

As someone who has sat on graduate admissions committees at more than one college, I can make the observation that it seems curious to receive recommendation letters with negative assessments in an otherwise glowing letter, given that the applicant could have chosen anyone he wanted to write the letter. His choice of Professor Wilson suggests curious judgment on his part.

When asked in the past to write recommendation letters, I occasionally have reminded students of their actions or work that might come up in the letter that might not shine as favorably on them if I am one of their recommenders. Professor Wilson could have done the same thing for Francis, but he had no obligation to do so.

The right thing is for Francis to choose those recommenders he believes might write the strongest letters on his behalf, and to expect that they will be honest and forthcoming in those letters. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2015 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.



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