The Supermarket and Other Facts of Life

It’s now October and in some ways it still feels as though I’ve just moved to Maine. It’s not that everyday I look out the window and leap back shouting, “What is this? Who?! What?!”. Rather this sense of still being new to Maine springs from the constant comparisons in my mind.

Take, for example, the supermarket. Having grown up with the chain where I currently shop (Hannaford) there should be very little surprise in the experience of going to the store. Yet there is. Each visit reminds me of two very important things.

The first is that no matter how wide you make an isle, no matter how well spaced you make the items on a shelf, you will still encounter people who believe they are alone in the store. I dislike starting off with a complaint but it’s relevant to my lingering obsession for comparison. Previously I found that when encountering another person in an isle if both of you had shopping carts a problem was inevitable. The isles were narrow and the marketing geniuses in charge of the store felt that by placing displays, either in the isles or literally sticking straight out from the shelves via plastic holders, the increase in sales would compensate for the bottlenecks that would ensue. No one liked the situation but it was unavoidable. In a city you are never going to make it through the isles without encountering another person.

In small town Maine this should not be an issue, or, if it is an issue it should be a much lesser one. I am happy to report that it is, I find the percentage of bottlenecks in isles to be 50% less thus far. Unfortunately the cause of these bottlenecks has little to do with the width of the isles or the displays that are loitering about and more to do with the rather inconsiderate nature of my fellow shoppers. I will cease dwelling on the point, I mention it merely because here one would expect to encounter the oblivious and the rude less frequently than in a city — if for no reason other than that there are fewer people.

Regarding the positive aspects of the stores I could write for days with ease. Better selections, better products, friendly employees who happen to know something about the departments they work in; as well as designs for the stores that are logical, spacious and conducive to happy shopping.

The second point I cannot fail to notice on each shopping excursion are the promotions for local products within the stores. Often there will be signs and displays that promote local products that tell the shopper where the product comes from and some information about the producer. I like this very much and I would guess everyone does. There is not only a sense of satisfaction I feel when I choose these products, knowing that I am supporting a local business person but also a connectedness that I find lacking in most aspects of life.

Take, for instance, the numerous articles about the polar bears of the past two years. Everywhere I turn I read or hear something about global warming and how this is destroying the habitat of the polar bears. The consequences are dreadful for the bears and everyone is proclaiming that it will most likely mean the extinction of their species unless something is done. My point on the matter is — what is to be done? I haven’t a clue and none of the filmmakers, journalists or scientists that keep penetrating into my small little world are offering any suggestions. I am flooded by images and text that decry what is happening and lament this tragedy but so far no one has proposed any solutions to me.

This isn’t an attempt to dodge responsibility on my part. I recognize that I use oil and that I drive a car and so on, I play a part in this problem and I fully admit it. My point is this — rather than continue to shout the news of the upcoming polar bear apocalypse perhaps someone should try and shout instructions on how to slow or solve this problem.

A few months prior to the invasion of Iraq I went to a lecture given by Thomas Friedman where he spoke about the potential invasion and the ramifications for the US if such an action was taken. A large portion of his lecture had to do with oil and this country’s dependency on it. One of the better points he made concerned the President’s response to September Eleventh and how it could have been better. What he meant by better was how the President asked nothing of the people of this country, that no action was asked or required, in order to prevent such acts from occurring again. Mr. Friedman made the point that had the president asked the American people to buy hybrid cars, or to walk to work or convert their homes to natural gas that even though it would have cost us all something, we would have felt better about what had happened and would have healed faster because of these sacrifices. His point, and I agree with him, was that if the people had been asked to be involved, much in the way people were with the second world war, the matter would have been our problem and not just something the government was attempting to clean up.

This was a long-winded way of making the point but I hoped it would be an effective way to do it. I like the idea of supporting local businesses and the fact that a chain supermarket makes the effort to not only stock these products but to call the shopper’s attention to it. This strikes me as one of the more wonderful discoveries I have made since moving to Maine. It frustrates me beyond belief to dodge cars when running or to have construction continue for weeks outside of my home but the fact that some people here are doing more than just bemoaning the death of the local farms — this fills me with profoundly optimistic feelings.

One comment

  1. There is nothing in life as good as finding a great grocery store. I totally agree with your point about how you just feel more connected: to your neighbors, to local businesses, and to your food.

    I have a great local food co-op that I shop. The people who work there work directly with the farmers. Any questions you have, they answer. Plus I know that the food that I put on the table was grown in the SW PA area. People are still bottle necked in the isles though. That’s pretty much universal.

    Thank you for sharing your opinions on our need to feel connected to these big issues. I appreciate your desire to focus on answers.

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