Grocery stores are the intersections of life. They are sites of culture, commerce, and exchange where we traffic in power relations, interpersonal connections, and political commitments. They are stages for enacting liberal guilt and way stations for the study of food politics.

I have become highly conscious of this complexity while trying to wean myself of my unhealthy addiction to Walmart. I am getting better. Months pass between my visits to that pernicious place. There are few alternatives, however.  Lately the Baton Rouge liberal community developed a deep interest in solving the “food desert” problem.

The Company Store

The savings at Walmart are considerable. I force myself to remember that the only reason for deep discounts is because employee salaries are heinously low. I eat cheap because workers are paid cheap. Eat cheap and then splurge on a CC’s latte. Dierdre McCloskey points out in Bourgeois Virtues: “Liberals feel unworthy of their possessions. Conservatives feel they deserve everything they’ve stolen” (citing Mort Sahl).

I grew up in severe poverty and among the barely-working poor. I STILL pay on my student loan, and most of my middle class experiences derive from “marrying up” and the benefit of an education. I’ve passed as a member of the middle class, and so I suffer from survivor guilt, and the ghostly hunger pangs of food insecurity. (I should be so lucky.)

A confession:

(posted in Facebook in January, fyi). .Glamorizing someone’s dignity as they labor in a devalued job does not value the job, it just permits its undervaluing.

At Winn Dixie, the customer in front of me was a little snappish to the cashier. The cashier ducked her head, and shook it gently, rolling her eyes discreetly, but after the customer departed.

Cashier: This job has its moments.
Me: All jobs have their moments.
Her: You’ve never worked retail, have you?
Me: For many hours, at many places.
Me: … [after a long pause wherein I realize my stupidness]… yeah, retail sucks.
Her: I’m sorry you witnessed my breakdown.

What a privileged life I have where – regardless of how much people mess with me (and they do) – I can say “F.. you” back (and I will…). I hope, when the “F… you” moment comes around for me (and it will), I will have this woman’s dignity.

Second Example: So much for being a good class-aware, racially-aware  liberal.

My grandmother and some other wise older person taught me to keep a couple of dollars cash on me at all times. Although I try to abide by this lesson, I somehow spent my last five dollars on that previously mentioned CC’s latte.

I was at the Wicked Walmart of the West late last night and cashless. I got cash back at the self-checkout, but the machine dispensed it in two $10’s instead of a $20, which is unusual. Unaware, I grabbed one $10 and left the other behind. I deposited my last grocery bag in my trunk and was buckling myself into my seat when a slouchy-dressed, scruffy-looking woman was chasing after me, a couple of bags in hand. My car door was open and I reached to close it – QUICKLY….

Her: Ma’am….ma’am….scuze me ma’am…..
Me (to myself): Lord, please, not another panhandler.
Me: Oh, is my door in your way? Let me get out of your way.
Her: Oh, no, ma’am.
She stretched her hand out. Iconic, right?
Me (to myself): Here it comes, the sob story and asking for money.
Her: “Ma’am, you left your money.”

Shoot me now.

Third example:

I rarely shop at Whole Foods if possible. The owner is a fascist and he doesn’t support ObamaCare. And, in all honesty, it’s the easiest political choice to make because I can’t afford the grocery bill and I don’t like healthy food.

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