I don’t put much time in at the regular supermarket. I end up there on occasion when I need aluminum foil or dried chilies, but most of the time I’m living in my little specialty foods retailer cocoon.
Before we moved to California in 2003, I went to Meijer every week in Michigan, along with the health food store and oftentimes the bakery and, in season, the farmers’ market.
Before we moved to Michigan in 2000, I had been working for Whole Foods for five years, and with a 20% discount, there was no reason to go anywhere else.
I’m fascinated by the regular grocery store whenever I’m there. I grew up with regular supermarkets – the red and orange A&P logo on the front of the market my family shopped at in New England is one of my earliest memories.
I remember the logo’s shape-commonality with pills my father took while he was battling Hodgkin’s disease and the coated licorice Good & Plenty candies that I ate, mimicking his daily pill-swallowing routine and offering them to him with childhood-magical-thinking-surety that they would make him not sick any more.
In Virginia, we shopped at Safeway store #0002 and then the Giant when it opened down the street, plus the dreaded weekend-afternoon eating trips to the commissary that fill the childhood memories of lots of military dependents. When you started filling the second cart, you knew the end was in sight.
But I’ve been away from the supermarket so long, and away from the standard American diet even longer, that I’m sort of amazed by what I find there and what’s happening. I’ve always been a casual grocery cart anthropologist – I roped a date using this habit when I was working at Whole Foods by saying Hey, that’s great tofu, isn’t it? – but looking at people’s carts at Whole Foods is of limited interest. There’s the person who clearly buys all her produce elsewhere and the couple who buy six bottles of wine at a time and the family who ring up a gargantuan bill with meat and prepared foods.
At the regular supermarket, though, I get to see what most people are really buying. To tell the truth, I mostly find this depressing.