Grocery Stores and the Search for a Sense of Belonging

Image by Peggy CCI from Pixabay

Grocery Stores and The Search for A Sense of Belonging –New Seasons

Here in Portland we have several chain grocery stores. Sadly, New Seasons is the only one I can walk to from my house. This is the store where you can buy a toothbrush made in Bangladesh from all organic materials that costs 29.95 with a portion of the proceeds being donated to a sulfate-free shampoo company in the Congo that employs former child soldiers. You can also buy %100 percent organic tomatoes grown in virgin dirt fertilized by free-range chickens and delivered from the farm to the store in an electric car for $6.95.

While I do enjoy browsing there sometimes because they carry a line of amusing greeting cards made by local artisans of 100% recycled handmade paper that has the lumps to prove it, I really can’t afford to do my regular shopping there. Last St. Patrick’s day, after doing a cost benefit analysis factoring in drive time, gas, and time of guests arrival, I did buy a small pesticide-free politically correct cabbage there, though.

I always feel kind of frumpy and unhip there, too, because I haven’t yet transformed my entire body into a tattooed mural or even had my elbows pierced. I’m so old-fashioned that, while I have a pair of fishnet stockings, I’ve never worn them with denim cut-offs and army boots for a trip to the grocery store to shop for probiotics. The cashiers just look right through me in my color-coordinated casual wear as if I had been cast as a token extra in the Broadway extravaganza in which they are currently starring.

Grocery Stores and The Search for A Sense of Belonging —Safeway

The closest grocery store that I can drive to in my neighborhood is Safeway, which is on Martin Luther King Blvd., a couple of blocks from Rosa Parks Blvd. Perhaps, using your superior powers of deduction, you’ve guessed that it’s in a neighborhood of color.

Despite the security guards endlessly roaming the parking lot and the armed guards staunchly defending the Starbucks located just inside the front door, in many ways, this is my favorite grocery store. I’ll tell you why.

While the selection of foodstuffs is laughable compared to Safeways in more prosperous neighborhoods, never once have I been in this store without seeing friends greeting one another joyfully and hugging in the aisles. If you’re one of those impatient shoppers who resents having to wait for a party to end to be able to maneuver your cart to the coffee section, this probably isn’t the store for you.

Since the supply of inexpensive generic half & half cleverly placed on the top shelf has always been depleted to the point where I can no longer reach it, someone invariably offers to get it for me, often even before I ask. If a teen-aged boy does not offer, his mother will make him, after asking him what’s wrong with him. You’ll never see, or hear, a spoiled child screaming for Fruit Loops in this store.

The costumes here are far different than New Seasons. Many of the customers take pride in appearing in public very seriously, and are dressed in suits with matching accessories. The ability to find shoes in the exact same shade as their suits and/or dresses is truly astonishing because I’m not talking boring white people colors like black and brown here.

Equally astonishing are the cashiers, who have memorized every number of every fruit and vegetable and never have to refer to a printout. Because they don’t have to waste time on that, they look you straight in the eye and ask how you are while their hands are busy scanning your items. I usually try to offer a brief amusing anecdote so they aren’t sorry they asked, and award myself bonus points if I get a chuckle. There’s usually a lot of laughter in line, so I like to do my part.

I scan all my coupons to my membership savings card before I go and only buy items that are on special. One of the most enjoyable moments is when, after I scan my card, the total drops— sometimes by half, and the cashier and the other people in line rejoice right along with me. That’s what I’m talkin’ about.

Grocery Stores and The Search For A Sense Of Belonging—Trader Joe’s

I still enjoy going to Trader Joe’s now and then, mostly because of their fliers. There’s usually something in them that’s described so well that it lures me into going there to try it, and it’s usually not disappointing.

Trader Joe’s is a store that seems made for single working people who want to eat exotic things but don’t have time to cook for themselves. You can indulge in some spicy lamb vindaloo or a butternut squash with goat cheese concoction just by tossing it into the microwave and enjoying a glass of wine while you wait for it to ding.

The wine section at Trader Joes is probably the biggest section there because single working people need a lot of friends and wine to help them forget about their workdays and get through their nights. You might need to wait until you get a raise to be able to buy much from the small but well-chosen selection of fresh organic vegetables they carry. However, the reasonable prices of their own brand name items and their large selection of frozen fruit make up for that.

I like the diversity of costumery at Trader Joes. It’s okay to have either an elaborate hairdo or a pierced face, whichever you prefer. Converse or heels, pearls or railroad spikes, it’s all easy- going and okay at Trader Joe’s. The cashiers are also hip and friendly without being pretentious. It was at Trader Joes that I was finally peer pressured into buying cloth shopping bags. Everybody else had them and I felt like a horrible earth-hater being the only one using paper bags, single-handedly eradicating our majestic forests.

Grocery Stores And The Search For A Sense Of Belonging—Albertson’s

I stop by Albertson’s if I’m driving home from somewhere, but I never go there on purpose. Although they try to tempt me by mailing me their special offers of ten dollars for ten pieces of fruit or ten vegetables, the only time I’ve ever gone there was to buy ice cream on the way home from a lover’s quarrel. I’ll tell you why.

Albertson’s gleams. They place such a high value on cleanliness and order that I feel guilty for coming into the store without removing my shoes first. Maybe it’s because it reminds me of the plastic slipcovers on all the furniture at my grandmother’s house and how I always suspected that she’d like to put them on us as well.

Atmospherically, they’ve achieved the bright sterile fluorescence of a hospital operating room, which is the first place I think of when I see the attractive cut flowers displayed near the entrance. This store makes me want to offer everyone I pass my condolences for their recent loss.

The aisles are wide and roomy, no chance of an accidental traffic jam there. The fruits and vegetables are symmetrically and attractively arranged, sometimes in clever little pyramids. This is an appropriate shape because other than the calming elevator music being piped in, it’s as silent as a tomb.

The customers are very tidy in their matching adult grrranimal outfits, and most of them look as though they just came from the hairdresser. From what I saw, many were there to stock up on hand sanitizer for every occasion.

I might be able to live with all this if the store had great savings or at least one of the cashiers wasn’t straight out of Stepford Wives, reciting a polite script with a smile that clearly belonged in the frozen food section. But ultimately, the deciding factor for me was the bland coleslaw from their deli department. It kind of represented the whole Albertson’s shopping experience.

Grocery Stores and the Search for a Sense of Belonging–Grocery Outlet

Grocery Outlet has become one of my favorite places to shop. Not only is it unpretentious, but it helps me gain valuable practice in the Buddhist principle of non-attachment. You will not consistently find your favorite brands there. Actually, there is no telling what you will find, or where.

At Grocery Outlet, you can buy the same organic, gluten, antibiotic, and GMO-free frozen dinners sold in overpriced health food stores for $6.99 for a mere $1.49 if you don’t mind that you’ll have to eat it today because the “best if sold by” date on it is tomorrow. While it’s true that proves more difficult to accomplish with the five-pound jug of Miracle Whip reduced to 99 cents, I can usually beat the deadline.

Grocery Outlet is also the place to go if you want to buy high-end luxury shampoo for $2.99 that sells for 17.99 in other stores just because somebody at the factory put the labels on upside down. If you’re not a slave to fashion, you can purchase cosmetics for a fraction of what you would pay anywhere else. Although these are name brand cosmetics, they come in colors which have been deemed by fashion experts not only to be out of fashion this year, but highly unlikely to come back into fashion throughout the rest of eternity.

Change is the name of the game at Grocery Outlet. Just because there were dozens of multi- colored fuzzy bathrobes on display on Tuesday morning doesn’t mean that they won’t be replaced by a cleverly constructed mountain of jigsaw puzzles Tuesday evening. This store is the autobahn of the grocery world, with frenzied employees speeding down aisles with fully loaded carts non-stop. Wherever you happen to find yourself standing, it’s likely to be in someone’s way, which really keeps you on your toes.

Perpetually on your toes is where you have to be if you want to succeed at shopping in this store. That shipment of ten-pound bags of gourmet feta cheese may not be there long enough for your friend to drive there in time to purchase any even if you text them as soon as you see it. That’s why almost everyone that shops at Grocery Outlet is a designated shopper for their entire neighborhood. I suspect that unless the authorities intervene, neighborhoods may even start forming Grocery Outlet community shopping savings accounts, thereby undermining the basic principles of competitive capitalism that we hold so dear.

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