Last night I went to the grocery store, to Schnucks on the Hill, which is the one I know. Weird how they're all so different even though it's supposed to be a chain. I don't go often because we belong to a CSA. We eat all sorts of crazy nonsense from the CSA--long-term readers will recognize my many squash lamentations. It's made me eat beets and pickled beets and bok choy and all sorts of weird things I normally would never had tried. March is the CSA's break. For 3 weeks we are on our own, and walking into Schnucks, I didn't go back to old habits. Most of my cart was produce, most of it in season (except those bananas). I did buy cheese crackers, I will admit. But I got through the line and spent $60 and knew that we would eat everything in the cart supplemented by meat in the freezer and what's left of our canned and frozen stuff.
Before I spent the money, though, I was trapped behind the wrong person. I always pick the wrong aisle. Some elderly lady with 57 expired coupons and a post-dated check. You know? Or a price is wrong. Or they want cigarettes and the bag boy brings the wrong brand. It is always this way for me. The most innocuous looking person becomes the checkout devil when I get behind them. So I try to relax about it and read headlines on tabloids (I don't even know who they're talking about these days...) or watch other people and what they're buying.
Last night I watched the woman in front of me. Young. Her cart was filled with canned tuna and baby products. She had formula, but the rest of it wasn't really baby food, but baby, well, products. She bought the tuna first, and then the formula. Using the spit-out-at-you coupons, she then started putting the baby jars of food and little plastic containers of puree and chunky puree and toddler juice drink and toddler and overpriced containers of, essentially, cheerios with different shapes.
I thought about poverty. I thought about how my grandmother raised 8 kids on not much at all. And how they ate a lot of beans and potatoes and cheap meat and so forth. About how, even when I visit her now, there isn't a bunch of convenience food on her shelves. Peanut butter, crackers, bread, but most everything else is ingredients. Things you have to put together to make a meal. How the idea of a CSA would seem overpriced and silly to her, but she would still eat the same stuff. Just find it at produce resellers' markets where she could argue over prices. She grew up in the Depression and old habits die hard--but some of them are good habits.
I wanted to reach across our carts and hand this woman a banana. Don't buy bananas in a jar. Buy a banana. I know, jars keep longer, but at least buy one banana? Buy a box of cheerios, don't buy Gerber's version of toddler snack. What especially pulled at me was that she was looking at each jar, like she was trying to decide if it was a good idea. Some she handed to the woman at the checkout and said she didn't want. Others she put on the belt but then took off and reexamined.
Her total came to over $100. Granted, she had powdered formula, which is pricey, and she paid for most of it via WIC, but still. And I know that old habits die hard and marketing is a powerful force in this country. I also know that living in the inner city (which I think I technically do even though I live on an affluent block) means your yard, if you have one, is the size of my thumbprint. Not a lot of room for a garden even if you knew how to start one. Time is also a factor. There are so many barriers to good nutrition for the urban poor. But I left Schnucks no longer patting myself on the back for my Boston lettuce and radishes and spinach and so forth. I just left with a nagging sense of wanting to do something.