The Supermarket Reality Show

In the summer, especially in a good year, we’re able to successfully avoid conventional grocery stores almost all together.  Every once in a while we run out of some dry good staple like toilet paper, and we’ll make a reluctant run to Market Basket or Big Lots or Walmart–whatever is closest or isn’t bugging us as much that day.  This year we were able to make our tomatoes last all the way past Thanksgiving.  There’s still frozen corn, a few bags of peas, some swiss chard and some beans in the freezer.  We have all the meat we’ll need for the year except when we might hanker for sausage or fish.  We have potatoes, onions, garlic.  We have rutabaga, beets, and carrots.  We still have a few bags of frozen blueberries left.  We are up to our ears in pickles, dilly beans, and tomato sauce.  We even have our own catsup.

We’re able to get our milk, eggs, honey and bread at a local farmstand, and sometimes our soap.  We could even get cheese there, if Bundle I and Bundle II weren’t so specific with their love of Extra Sharp Cabot Cheddar. 

It’s the fresh fruit and need for green vegetables that get us.

So, every two weeks or possibly longer if I can help it, I bundle the kids up and I make my laborious trip to the least offensive grocery store of the moment.  These days I’ve been trekking to Brattleboro, Vermont’s Co-Op, mostly because of all the various Co-ops in the region, they are the most likely to still be carrying local produce (apples, tomatoes, occasionally broccoli or brussell sprouts, and greens from various local high tunnels).  They’ve got a fair amount of bulk items like pasta, rice, oatmeal, flour, dried fruit.   I can get cases of wine there for pretty good prices which will last us for months.  But the majority of the store is as conventional as it gets, except with higher price points, so I then travel to one of the various supermarket chains for the rest of it– usually fruits and vegetables that aren’t local and are therefore coming from the same distributor regardless of whether it ultimately ends up at Market Basket or the Co-op, canned goods, cereals, paper products.  Depending on what time of day and the day of the week that I’ve chosen to do the shopping, I can come up against all sorts of obstacles; completely unripe fruit which was likely picked too early so that it could withstand the harsh trip from Mexico; items which try to hide the fact that they contain sugar by calling it “evaporated cane juice”, the ongoing and usually unsuccessful search for milk that doesn’t have Omega 3 added to it, or for yogurt which hasn’t had all the fat-and thus most of the nutrition- stripped out, items which proudly proclaim they are Gluten Free because they were never made out of wheat in the first place, rows and rows of bags claiming to contain bread but appear to only contain sponge, the lipservice to “Organic” which either involves wrapping said items in indestructable shrink wrap plastic and scattering them about the produce section or lumping it all together in a begrudgingly small space and then using that space as a storage area for the Kellogs Corn Flakes about to be re-stocked, the obligatory and utterly insulting and paltry display of “Local” items which are usually local only as the 747 flies, and finally, the other shoppers, most of whom have filled their carts with the very stuff I had studiously been avoiding and now am staring at while they-slowly- meander through the aisles and usually end up ahead of me in line.

At some point during the trip, I start muttering.  Usually it takes the form of a conversation with my children, but it is most likely obvious to everyone else around me that I’m actually about to go postal.  When someone randomly tells the package she holds that Rice Cakes have always been Gluten Free because they are made out of RICE, god-damn it, well, you just stay clear of that person.  You might even keep an eye on her kids just to make sure she isn’t, you know, really crazy.  I’ve also successfully cleared the “Organic” section by insisting that I wanted to look at the entire aisle, thank you, and please move the Kellogs Crap Flakes somewhere else until I’m done…but I’m not sure I should really be proud of that.

Here’s the thing though; the majority of the U.S. gets their food this way.  And they apparently don’t think anything of it.  They just blindly go down the aisles, blithely picking up “bargains” when they see them, skirt around the various displays, pay little attention to labels, and generally buy items which I personally wouldn’t consider edible, at least not on a daily basis.    They don’t care if the fruit isn’t ripe or the cucumber is soft because most of that is an after thought anyway, or maybe they’ve never actually eaten the real thing.    They buy the sponge bread and the peanut butter and jelly mix because they’ve been led to believe they’ll save time this way or possibly because their kids don’t have enough of an attention span to find both the peanut butter jar and the jelly jar.    So as I’m going about on my crazed hunt for the least offensive items on the very edges of the store, the majority is staying out of my way by buying up the middle.  So actually we don’t cross paths that often, except at the check out line.

The majority of the people that I come into contact with are omnivores.  Yet they are genuinely horrified when they realize that the chickens in our backyard are destined to be chicken salad.  For them, food comes from a supermarket, preferrably on styrofoam or possibly pre-cooked and microwaveable, its actual origins far removed from whatever form it takes in the package.  As long as the store offers convenient parking and the carts don’t wobble, they’re good to go.  Welcome to reality, Aileen.   Yeah.  What you think you’re doing?  That’s just a dream.

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