Who is Harris Teeter, anyway?

In which RVA gripes about grocery shopping…

I hate grocery stores.

I like food (who doesn’t?!) and I like cooking, but I hate grocery stores.  I don’t mind the idea of a store where you go to get food.  It’s grocery stores specifically as they exist in most American cities that I can’t stand.

Why?  Well, I’m glad you asked that, hypothetical person.

I didn’t always used to be so anti-capitalism but then I priced medicine and things took a turn.  So I don’t know if I’m Leftist or Liberal or Anti-Capitalist or Quasi-Anarchist or what.  I just know that I don’t like business being the driving force in civilization.  And I think that’s pretty perfectly encapsulated at the grocery store.

Let me give you an example.

Yesterday, I went to the grocery store to shop for three households (in quarantine with two immunosuppressed people in my life, I do all the shopping).  Someone wanted a particular flavor of a particular brand of sugar-free snacks.  Cool, no problem.  Variety is fun and taste is one of the basic senses animals have.  So it’s important to engage in eating tasty food, in much the same way that visual stimulation is important.

So I go to the store to buy, among other things, lime-flavored sugar-free Jell-O.  Cool, no problem.  Or so I thought.

First, do you know where in the store you find these things?  This isn’t the package that you use to make the Jell-O at home.  These are the completed cups of the stuff.  I checked the desert section.  No luck.  I check the snack section.  No luck.  I check the dairy aisle because I’m just guessing blindly at this point.  No luck.  I search aisle by aisle through the whole damn store TWICE.  No luck.  A fairly common flavor of a fairly common variety of one of the most popular snacks in the country and I can’t even get a hit on its location.

It takes me five minutes to find a store employee who isn’t on register.  I ask them and they aren’t sure, but they direct me back to the dairy aisle (where the yogurt and such is).  Makes sense.  I’ve checked there at least four times (maybe more), but why not?

I go back to the dairy aisle.  I find myself at the rear of the store, standing before a wall of yogurt cups.  Regular yogurt.  Low-carb yogurt.  Greek yogurt.  Dairy-free yogurt (whatever the f*&k that is).  All-natural yogurt.  High-end yogurt.  Bargain basement yogurt.  Popular brand yogurt.  Obscure hipster brand yogurt.  Store-brand yogurt.  And every combination and permutation imaginable.

I was in awe.  So many different variations of basically one single food.  Every brand, every type, coming in many of the same litany of flavors.  Or sure, some of them come in cookies ‘n crème while others have honey-and-cod-liver or whatever, but they all have at least plain, vanilla, strawberry, and blueberry.  Key lime seems common too.  Peach?  Sure, why not.

So I just stood here, emotionally spent from my failed quest to find lime-flavored sugar-free Jell-O.  And I look at this wall, this entire portion of the store, dedicated JUST to single-serving yogurts.

At first, I thought, why do I have to dig through all of these?  I’m here to find Jell-O.  Assuming the Jell-O is here (it wasn’t), I have to scout out its logo amongst all these different designs.  I have to LOOK AT THESE GARISH-ASS COLORS AND LOGOS just to sort through all of them to see if MAYBE what I want is amongst them.  It took me five minutes just to be absolutely sure that, nope, no Jell-O anywhere.

But then, I began to get mad.  I had to look at these brands.  I had to sort through them.  I had to pay attention to this yogurt just to find what I wanted.  I couldn’t just come in and buy what I wanted.  No, I had to bear witness to the existence of these different yogurts, process what they were, and elect to discard that information.  It might seem small, but I would argue that’s a not trivial amount of processing power happening right there.

And then, I fixated on the waste of it all.  Look, I like yogurt.  On cheat day, I’ll get a cup or three of strawberry yogurt or something, just to indulge.  It tastes good, it allegedly keeps the gut biome happy.  Cool, no problem.

But if I come into this store to buy strawberry yogurt, I have to consider seven types across nine different brands (actual numbers from the grocery store yesterday).  That’s sixty-three potential variations on a single food-stuff: strawberry yogurt.

That – and I cannot stress this enough – is dumb.

Variety is great and some people need or prefer this type or that brand, I get it.  But this is an extreme.  This is passing from the realm of diversity to malignancy.  This is too much.  This is capitalism gone amuck.

And I say specifically capitalism because I do not believe it is consumerism.  I don’t believe consumers bandied together and demanded more varieties of yogurt.  Consumers as a force can do a lot, some good, some bad.  But they did not demand this mundane gluttony.

As the very fabric of our society is re-evaluated in the wake of the global quarantine, I think we need to re-evaluate and reconsider a lot.  But the sheer enormity of our purchasing process needs to be in the discussion.  Because I get variety, I do.  But I repeat, this isn’t variety.  This is an advertising slog that simply should not be necessary to wade through just to buy food.

Author: Robert V Aldrich

Author. Speaker. Cancer Researcher. Martial Artist. Illustrator. Cat dad. Nerd.

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