“In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations….” – Allen Ginsberg, “A Supermarket in California.”
Like most people, I go to the grocery store. Unlike most people, I spend a lot of my free time thinking about the grocery store. (A single woman needs her hobbies!)
Oh god, I love the grocery store. There is just so much to do! You can roll melons down the aisles like bowling balls. You can arrange all of the potato chip brands alphabetically. You can flirt with the sweaty teenager working at the deli counter. The possibilities are endless.
Besides these earthly delights, the other reason that I think so much about the grocery store is that the owners of grocery store chains are always thinking about me. It’s true. Every action that you take in a grocery store is carefully predicted beforehand by scheming marketing executives.
A couple of years ago, I read an article about all of the psychological tricks that these executives use to try to get you to buy more food. For example, studies find that people are most likely to turn right when they walk in a door, so the entrance doors in grocery stores are always located on the far left side. That way, people walk in the entrance, turn right, and then have to walk through the entire grocery store before getting to the checkout.
I refuse to be a pawn in this little game, however. When I arrive at the grocery store, I push my way through the exit doors like a salmon swimming upstream. Then I weave erratically through the aisles, knocking over shelves and waving my coupons in the air. While this does upset the other customers, I like to think of it as a metaphorical middle finger to the grocery store executives.
While I try to keep my shopping trips as anxiety-inducing and as unpredictable as possible, there are a few sections of the grocery store that are definitively my favorite. My number one favorite section is the “Discontinued Section.” If you don’t know what the Discontinued Section is, then you are probably rich. If so, you will really enjoy these next few anecdotes as a sort of dirty peek into “how the other half lives.”
The Discontinued Section is where grocery stores place all of the products that are too damaged to be sold at a regular price. In this section, you will find dented cracker boxes, bruised fruit, old pastries, and dairy products that are very close to their expiry dates. It is truly a treasure trove waiting to be explored.
The most exciting things that you can find in the Discontinued Section are expensive food brands that are discounted so much that they are actually cheaper than the regular, inexpensive brands.
This is an incredible opportunity to experience luxury. For example, when I buy yogurt, I always buy the cheap grocery store brand. But when rich people buy yogurt, they tend to buy the expensive Icelandic yogurt that is made with real ingredients and comes in cute, Instagrammable packaging. There is always a little story on the packaging about the founder of the yogurt company, and it usually reads something like this:
“Halló! My name is Katla, and I grew up on a farm in Iceland. When I was a child, I was out walking on the glaciers one day when I was visited by the Icelandic god, Freyr. He took me by the shoulders and told me that it was my destiny to make millions by mass-producing Icelandic yogurt for wealthy Americans. Now, I live in a chic New York City apartment with my husband and my three sons, Sigurður, Guðmundur, and Reykjavík. Enjoy my yogurt!”
The grocery store brand yogurt does not have a cute little story to go along with it, (you get what you pay for!), but if it did, I imagine it would go a little bit more like this:
“Hello, low-income consumer…. my name is Rick, and I am part of the product creation team in Indianapolis, Indiana. One day, I decided to create the cheapest yogurt ever made. How did I do it? Simple, by using chemical compounds that are banned in Europe. Oh, and also by using prison labor. All of our yogurt is hand-mixed by prisoners serving time for nonviolent drug offenses. My boss was so pleased with my final yogurt product that he gave me a bonus, and I used it to buy a jet ski. Eat my yogurt, you sad, loser!”
Not as satisfying, is it? The beauty of the Discontinued Section is that it gives a poor little plebeian like me the chance to try the fancy, Icelandic yogurt, even if I can’t afford it regularly.
Now you might be wondering, why is the fancy, Icelandic yogurt in the Discontinued Section in the first place? Usually, it’s there because it’s going to expire tomorrow. Basically, this means that if I’m going to buy it, I need to plan on eating it right away. But that’s alright with me. To be honest, eating five cups of yogurt for dinner isn’t entirely out of the ordinary for me. My diet is very flexible. These days it is very en vogue to describe your diet with a single word. But if I had to describe my diet, I wouldn’t choose “vegan,” “paleo,” “keto,” or “gluten-free.” The word I’d choose is “chaotic.”
Other than the Discontinued Section, my second favorite section of the Grocery store is the 50% – 70% off table. I have always appreciated the specificity of this table. 50% to 70%. You won’t see lackluster 45% off deals on this table. But don’t even think of expecting an 80% off sale, you greedy little monster! The 50% – 70% off the table is different from the Discontinued Section because none of the items are damaged. Instead, this table has the items that even in pristine condition nobody wants to buy. It’s usually an amalgamation of Mexican sodas, discount dog food, and canned okra. Most of the items are useless, but every so often, I will happen upon a hidden treasure. Wow! A bar of specialty dark chocolate with almonds! What luck. Golly gee! A tin of discounted Christmas sugar cookies! Sure, it might not be the Christmas season, but who can afford to celebrate holidays when they are actually happening? It’s much better to scoop up the discounts a month or two after. When my future children are young and not yet sentient, I plan to save money by celebrating Christmas in the summer and Easter in the winter.
After running up and down the aisles for a couple of hours and visiting both the Discontinued Section and the 50%-70% off table, my grocery shopping experience is almost complete. The only thing I have left to do is to visit the checkout.
To my disgust, almost all of the grocery stores that I go to have replaced the regular checkout lanes with automatic check out machines. I find this trend to be very concerning. If I do not get checked out by a real person, who will silently judge my food purchases? Who will glare at me when I forget where I put my wallet? Who will say “Ma’am, you are holding up the line” when I suddenly realize that I want to buy a candy bar and become paralyzed with indecision? None of these things are possible with an automatic checkout machine. How dare the grocery store executives deprive me of these simple pleasures!
The automatic checkout machines are also very confusing to use. They have many flashing lights, and they always yell, “PLEASE PLACE YOUR ITEMS IN THE BAGGING AREA” as I stand there trying to find my debit card. Every so often, when I can’t figure out how to scan an item, I grow tired of trying and will just toss it in my cart and be on my way. This might sound like petty thievery, but it’s actually a form of infrapolitical resistance against the automation of low wage work. I do what I can for the people.
After checking out and “accidentally” swiping a pack of gum or an apple, I get in my car and cackle to myself all the way home. Oh, the joys of thievery. Is this what successful protest under late-stage capitalism tastes like? Or am I just poor? It’s something that I like to ponder as I sit home late at night, eating my fancy Icelandic yogurt and nibbling on my Christmas cookies.