Shopping with RJP and FWA

Since I was almost out of coffee yesterday, I decided it was time to go back to the coffee and tea place in Linden Hills (which I already wrote about here). I am pleased to announce that I had lattes at home all last week (except for one iced latte at Nokomis Beach on Father’s Day). I must have saved about $18 (or $10 after you factor in the price of the coffee). Anyway, FWA and RJP joined me on the “adventure” (when FWA was much younger, I used to try to convince him to come shopping with me by calling it an “adventure,” as in, “Hey FWA, time to go on an adventure!” It didn’t take him long to realize my bulls**t. He would yell, “Mom, adventure means going on a boring shopping trip and I DON’T LIKE BORING SHOPPING TRIPS!”). Even before entering the tiny store, which is filled with jars and jars of coffees and teas from around the world, RJP yelled excitedly, “Hey, it’s the stinky coffee place!” And when FWA and RJP entered they immediately plugged their noses. This gesture prompted the guy behind the counter and me to talk about our own pre-coffee innocence, back when we couldn’t believe that anyone could possibly want to drink this stuff. Sigh–it makes me wonder about what things I will enjoy in 20 years that I really dislike now–hmm….I hope Jay Leno isn’t still on…

After dropping the coffee (and FWA) off at the car to sit with STA, RJP and I made a quick trip to Wild Rumpus and then the Great Harvest Bread Company, where we picked up some shortbread and a wonderful loaf of spinach and feta bread. Very tasty. I used the shortbread for dessert, along with some strawberries (from Oxendales) and whipped cream.

So, here’s my (not so deep) reflection for the day: I really don’t like shopping at mega-stores. I always feel overwhelmed by choices and then angered by the fact that I really don’t have much choice at all (the aisles are filled with the same brands, but just in different colors or sizes). And I feel disconnected from the food I am getting, partly because so much of it is processed, packaged (even the vegetables are individually wrapped) and shipped from somewhere (where?) else. For me it isn’t just that the food isn’t local or organic (because some of it can claim, at least legally, to be organic); it is that these mega stores make deliberate efforts to limit my options. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I can or even should have limitless options (at least, limitless options without consequences or without consideration of at what or whose expense those choices are made available to me). But, I get really annoyed with how stores (Target, I’m talking to you), try to dictate when I buy bathing suits for the kids (in March, before they are all gone!) or snow boots (September or October at the latest).

Now, I am not saying anything new here; many people have written much more eloquently about the politics of food, or the evils of big corporations, or the limits of choice (who has access to choices and/or whether the liberal notion of choice should even be a key value). I write this today because the experience of shopping at small, “local”–does Great Harvest Bread Company count as local?–stores instead of the mega store both reminds me of that which I am already aware, that I really, really dislike shopping at mega stores, and provides me with even more reasons why I shouldn’t shop at them.

One final thought: Not everyone has access (the time, the money, the proximity) to the stores that we (RJP, FWA and I) shopped at last night. I am reminded of this study that I read about last year: The High Cost of Poverty. Here’s what they say about being poor and buying groceries:

Poverty 101: We’ll start with the basics.

Like food: You don’t have a car to get to a supermarket, much less to Costco or Trader Joe’s, where the middle class goes to save money. You don’t have three hours to take the bus. So you buy groceries at the corner store, where a gallon of milk costs an extra dollar.

A loaf of bread there costs you $2.99 for white. For wheat, it’s $3.79. The clerk behind the counter tells you the gallon of leaking milk in the bottom of the back cooler is $4.99. She holds up four fingers to clarify. The milk is beneath the shelf that holds beef bologna for $3.79. A pound of butter sells for $4.49. In the back of the store are fruits and vegetables. The green peppers are shriveled, the bananas are more brown than yellow, the oranges are picked over.

(At a Safeway on Bradley Boulevard in Bethesda, the wheat bread costs $1.19, and white bread is on sale for $1. A gallon of milk costs $3.49 — $2.99 if you buy two gallons. A pound of butter is $2.49. Beef bologna is on sale, two packages for $5.)

Prices in urban corner stores are almost always higher, economists say. And sometimes, prices in supermarkets in poorer neighborhoods are higher. Many of these stores charge more because the cost of doing business in some neighborhoods is higher. “First, they are probably paying more on goods because they don’t get the low wholesale price that bigger stores get,” says Bradley R. Schiller, a professor emeritus at American University and the author of “The Economics of Poverty and Discrimination.”

Breaking bad habits and crafting and practicing new ones that are more responsible and just is not just a project for individuals (like me or STA) who reflect on the direct impact of those individual choices on their particular lives. Breaking bad habits requires a deeper analysis and awareness of the impact of those choices on others and of the disproportionately harmful impact of certain collective choices (such as, where stores are located or how items are priced) on certain communities. Breaking bad habits and crafting new ones is not just about being healthy or organic or less-wasteful; it is about becoming and staying aware of the various structures/ideologies (shaped by race, class, nation, ability, sexuality, and more) that subtly and not so subtly determine how and why we act in the ways that we do.

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