Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Chicago grease thieves are on the Groundskeeper Willie retirement plan

The Simpsons, "Lard Of The Dance"

In his book Violent Entrepreneurs, researcher Vadim Volkov argues that crime plays a key role in the development of new market economies. And while his study focuses on the creation of Russia’s post-USSR market forces, he would doubtless be inspired by the ways in which his theories are being played out in the grimy and dangerous underground world of grease right here in Chicago. DNAinfo reports one of the biggest threats to restaurateurs in the Windy City—outside of their inability to understand that sprinkling some Bac-o-bits into macaroni and cheese does not magically turn it into a $15 dish—is the slippery business of used cooking oil theft, a form of smuggling brought to popular attention by The Simpsons’ resident Scotsman, Groundskeeper Willie.

It seems “Lard Of The Dance,” the season 10 premiere of the animated hit, has given the shadowy Chicago underworld some ideas as to new revenue streams. (Spike Lee is probably slapping himself for his lack of attention to this threat in his most recent film Chi-Raq, as it’s obviously the most pressing social issue facing the city.) Black-market grease thieves are venturing out in the night behind Chicago’s roughly 7,300 restaurants in order to pilfer the lucrative used cooking oil stored in tanks, drums, and containers, often causing huge messes in the taking. The usual method of theft, in which thieves “vacuum the grease through a garden hose into an idling panel truck,” results in alleyway disorder that can earn fines for the restaurants victimized by this oily endeavor.


Yellow grease—or “yellow gold” as it’s called in industry slang, because the world takes place inside a 1930s radio serial—is currently valued at around $2 a gallon, though it can reach prices of $4 a gallon, making those crude-oil fat cats look like a bunch of Gil Gundersons. The yearly grease-rendering market contributes around $2 billion to the economy, making it all but certain these illegal back-alley grease heists will continue into the foreseeable future. And while most of us have accepted death via grease as the cost of consuming food as an American, the brutal grease wars we’re assuming are on the horizon will provide exciting and new ways for the average person to face an early death thanks to our insistence on saturated fats.

It’s not all bleakness in the world of high-stakes grease rendering, however. A company named Ace Grease (surprisingly not also the name of a villain from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome) has apparently been “having success with very small GPS beads poured into an empty bin to float unharmed as the grease collects,” DNAinfo reports. When the grease is stolen, the beads relay signals as to their whereabouts, leading to arrests—and a small victory for the Groundskeeper Willies of the world, depending on their legitimate grease reserves to get them through retirement.

Share This Story