Sometimes, when I am waiting in line at the Supermarket checkout, I stare, dully, at the groceries of whoever is ahead of me, and because I am a sticky-beak I put the story all together in my mind. A story which is full of questions. I wonder how much you can tell of somebody by their groceries.
There is the older woman, she must be a pensioner, she buys the barest of essential ingredients. Milk. Tinned fish. Rice. Pasta. Tinned tomatoes. Onions. Bread. A few cup-o-soups. They are all home brand. I wonder if she has children, how old they are, if they live near her, if she has grandchildren, what has happened to bring her to this point where affording the simplest of groceries is difficult. Maybe, though, she is quite wealthy and saving even the smallest amounts of money on her food is strangely satisfying to her, a way she can feel in control of her life, of her expenses. Perhaps money is something to be squirreled away instead of spent on living.
A shiny woman in her thirties. Her hair is voluminous & well cut, she is about a size 18-20. Her clothes look expensive, but she is bulging out of them. There are two types of women in this category. Those who buy cake and those who buy diet soft drinks. One doesn’t care, loves her size, flaunts it and enjoys her food; the other one is really trying…but not really. I’ve been in the overweight camp after each of my pregnancies, and it is hard to lose it, so I sympathise.
The trendy looking couple, with fair trade everything. Checking the back of every label.
I like to note how many fresh ingredients I see in peoples trolleys. Sometimes it is hugely encouraging, seeing the clearly competent and confident mums with trolleys full of greens, other times a sad commentary on the state of our food system, with near everything in said trolley in a plastic bag or a brightly coloured box with brand names screaming loudly.
Food has forever been a centrifugal force in relationships and storytelling. So many stories converge in a supermarket. People passing like trolleys in the aisle, words unspoken, but the contents of trolleys speaking volumes, uttering a myriad of questions, stating simple facts about this increasingly complex world. Supermarkets are an icon of lost community, where even getting food is done without any need for relationship, especially with the introduction of self-serve checkouts, before these however ‘checkout chicks’ were merely human machines, just another cog.
This is the 20th century version of foraging. With the 21st century still in its infancy I wonder what they’ll think of next. I wonder if I will like it.