13 August, 2008

People Watching at the Grocery Store

I was at the big grocery store today, picking up the basics for the week. Then the baby needed to eat. Now. So I hightailed it to the coffee shop section, parked my butt, and whipped out my boob. Now, as I normally breastfeed in a comfy club chair in my living room watching the Olympics, this afforded a whole new perspective on the world.

The Express check-out was right in front of me so I watched people with their after work purchases. People buy weird things. Well, weird combinations of things. Like 2 litres of chocolate milk, a package of the mini boxes of cereal, and baby carrots - by a man in his 30s in a suit. Or a deli salad and a big bag of oranges. Most people bought milk, refilling their fridges midweek. I am amazed by the people with only one item. A loaf of bread, a bundle of flowers, a bunch of bananas, some toilet paper.

What we buy at the grocery store is a tiny glimpse into our lives. What we eat is, I believe, a reflection of our values. Not just that some of us value the quality of our food more than others, rather that how we live is reflected in our consumer choices. It comes down to what cleaning supplies we buy, which breakfast cereal we choose to eat, or whether we're willing to buy strawberries in January.

I'm sure Rose, the regular check-out lady I seek, probably wonders why I hardly buy any veggies and never any meat. But she doesn't ask. Instead I know more about her son, a bass player in a big-time Canadian rock band. I would happily brag about the farmers I buy my veggies and meat from, if she asked. She is just there to process my purchases and make some idle chitchat. She is the face of my grocery store shopping, even if I am only buying cleaning supplies, dairy, and bread from her. So she isn't the farmer who grew my food, but she is the friendly face in the commercial giant.

The folks running through the express check-out weren't interested in chit-chat, they wanted their milk and to get home. For them, the grocery store was a means to an end. Being forced to sit down and observe the people in the store gave me a new perspective. The staff who work there, for the most part, are there because they like people, not food. So look at your grocery store as another way to connect with people, not just fill your cupboards cheaply. It isn't always about food.

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