Amid the Alien Whole-Kernel Corn
Given that most of humanity has always lived on the edge of starvation, the ordinary (to us) grocery store is an adventure in consumerism and culture: coffee from Colombia, tea from Sri Lanka (which was Ceylon before it watched too much television), bananas from Nicaragua, olive oil from Italy, herring from Norway, and summer vegetables shipped from California at all seasons. Sugar-sodden snacks pose seductively only an aisle away from the ascetic whole-grain breads, and diet sodas vamp desperately for the shopper’s attention like aging pop stars layered in makeup.
Shopping the supermarket is like shopping the world, and presumably the rest of the world enjoys effective means of transporting groceries back to the house, flat, yurt, tent, or trailer. In the USA, it might be time for us to bring our own bags to the grocery store.
Not so long ago grocery sacks were made of heavy brown paper. When the sackboy, showing off a bit, swung it in a great arc against the air the sack opened with a very satisfying “pop,” ready for action. The good old paper grocery sack was sturdy and capacious, and once the groceries were stored away at home the sacks went on to second careers as costume masks, school projects, and useful (though not fashionable) beach and overnight bags, and for carrying one’s own garden produce to friends. The cloud of polysyllabic adjectives condemning the use of paper grocery sacks as a crime against red-headed toadfrogs or something is just a darned lie.
Later the customer was given a choice, paper or plastic, and the plastic, too, was good stuff. Primitive plastic grocery sacks were manly ones, quite capable of telling that “Hefty, Hefty, Hefty” upstart where to get off.
Alas that now shoppers in the land of Manifest Destiny have no choice. Grocery bags are plastic only, and nouveau plastic of such a flimsy, vaporous quality that they are no more substantial than a political party’s platform. Groceries that could be toted in two or three substantial paper bags are now wrapped into six or seven little puffs of weak, thin film. These diaphanous fancies are carefully designed to fall apart, like an environmentalist’s excuses, between your car and your back door.
A modern plastic grocery bag is not strong enough to hold even a pound of coffee, but that works out okay because there are no one-pound cans of coffee anymore. Coffee is now sold 12 ounces at a time in cardboard cylinders. One supposes that an honest pound of coffee was detrimental to the rain forest, which used be a fine old jungle before it began taking night classes at community college and got all sensitive.
Shopping carts have changed little; they’re still made of steel, rattle like crazy, and feature errant wheels that are determined to steer the cart to India even though you are trying to tack against them to the frozen foods. I have been in grocery stores where the shopping carts were made of plastic atop obedient wheels, but that somehow seemed a little too Martha’s Vineyard or something. Real Americans demand noisy, oppositional, steel shopping carts with a little fight in them.
Your old Granny thumped the melons, smelled the steaks, palpated the bread, and eyed the ground Charles carefully because she knew what she was doing. Now most food products, even bananas and apples, are decorated with health and safety labels, but I’d rather trust Granny’s diagnosis than some propaganda about how an apple was grown by barefoot beatniks invoking karma-ness and the spirit of Alan Watts.
But, hey, it’s all organic, natural, farm-fresh, and good for the environment, right? After all, the label says so, and who can argue with a label?
Coffee in cardboard and fooofy grocery sacks that exhibit the tensile strength of water vapor, well, we can cope, but how sadly progressive that sackboys no longer wear aprons, white shirts, and bow ties. They looked sharp in a Little House on the Prairie-goes-to-town-on-Saturday sort of way. I kinda miss that.