A Day of Grocery Stores

When you enter a grocery store, you’re hit with smells–coffee beans, spices, fish from the fish counter, bread from the baker–and the endless possibilities of all the different foods you might buy. I love this experience, and I love going to the grocery store. This is my thesis.

Tanner, like most normal people, generally only tolerates visits to grocery stores, but today was different. Today, to celebrate my birthday day, we spent the afternoon walking 10.8 miles to visit four different grocery stores. We went to the Italian market on Paca Street, an Indian grocery up near Roland Park, a generic Safeway supermarket, and Cross Street Market, down south in Federal Hill. At each different store or market, we encountered different types of people, different ethnicities, different price-points, and different types of food. It was a lovely day.

Entering an average, everyday grocery store is akin to conducting a mini sociological experiment. There are few places where people of all socioeconomic, racial, and familial backgrounds need to go. It’s pretty standard in America that we have churches, neighborhoods, and schools divided by race and class. But everybody, everybody has to go to the grocery store. And while most people, especially those of the higher economic backgrounds, have their favorite grocery store, in many situations–such as when you just have to have those eggs for the cookies you’re baking–convenience trumps preference. And that’s what makes grocery stores and supermarkets so fun. (Although it may seem that because neighborhoods are racially and financially segregated, grocery stores would be too, that’s not the case, given the prevalence of “food deserts.” Not unsurprisingly, from a supply-and-demand perspective, there are generally very few grocery stores in poor neighborhoods, meaning everybody has to frequent the richer neighborhood grocery stores.)

In our sojourn to the various supermarkets of Baltimore, we learned about the communities in which they were nestled, and we purchased some cool little odds and ends. (At the Italian grocery, for example, we bought some chocolate mint wine, which was bizarre but actually really tasty. And at the Indian market, we purchased candied kiwis, also delicious.)

We ended the day at the “boring old” Safeway (Tanner’s words, not mine). In the checkout line, we saw all kinds of people. Behind us was a very old white lady buying 10 Lean Cuisines, a six-pack of beer, and a package of sugar cookies with purple frosting and purple sprinkles (Ravens cookies, of course). In front of us was a Johns Hopkins professor (I saw his ID in his wallet when he opened it) buying a premade Safeway sandwich for $6.70, a small container of Safeway macaroni and cheese, and a container of Safeway double chocolate chip cookies (wouldn’t a takeout meal from a restaurant be better than that, and at a better price to boot?). To our right was a young couple buying coffee creamer, Dunkin Donuts coffee (even though Starbucks was on sale, and the woman was loudly slurping her Starbucks drink), cinnamon buns, and a cake. (I did not like the looks of them.) Further to our right was a young man buying three six-packs of beer and a box of Kleenex. Did he come to the store with the intent to buy both of those items, or did he come to buy beer and just decide to buy Kleenex? We’ll probably never know. But I liked to think about it.

It makes me happy to be in my community, see its people, and shop for tasty food in grocery stores. And it’s my birthday day, and I love to go to grocery stores, and that’s what I wanted to talk about.

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