…stories like the one Schakowsky told me next, sitting on her Michigan City porch, about how she became a warrior for justice in the first place, and how in the process she built an army.
It was 1969. Schakowsky was a housewife with two young children, and she was in a grocery store studying a package of rancid pepper steak. "I had to ask the butcher how old this thing they called 'pepper steak' was." He wouldn’t answer. "He told me I could go somewhere else." She left.
A week later, she heard a commotion around that same meat counter, the same butcher yelling the same thing at another young housewife. But that housewife, whose name was Jackie Kendall, did not budge. Schakowsky, impressed, joined forces with Kendall and together they started a new organization – they called it "National Consumers United" – and soon figured out what no one else had: that every packaged item in a supermarket had something called an "expiration date." Problem was, the expiration date was stamped on packages in code. Kendall and Schakowsky cracked the codes and published them all in a book; and then they moved out to the stores. "We would take the old stuff off the shelf. Oscar Meyer, the packaged meats – big offenders. And once we got the codes for baby food and infant formula – days, weeks, months, years behind the date." They would put the offending items in carts and wheel them up to the store manager, having stuck them with pencil holes so they couldn’t go back on the shelves.