Store Wars

Ottawa XPress – Shotgun – August 25, 2006

Some people would like to know how they get the caramel inside a Cadbury’s Caramilk bar. I would be happy knowing how they mapped a constellation of my birth sign in blue-green mold on the underside crust of the apple pie I bought at a big corporate chain grocery store on Bank Street.

So there I was on break from work with a cup of tea and a nice slice of heated apple pie. It was me-time. Treat-time. I took a sip of my tea and picked up a fork to dig in. It smelled great. And, tasted like shit. More precisely – like mold.

Are you aware there is a conspiracy going on at your local grocery store? Well, maybe not at yours but at mine there is. How else do you explain the long list of rotten food I’ve barfed up, thrown out or decided to return? I’ve gotten home to notice the seal on my pumpkin pie box was busted and the pie half dried-out. I’ve sat ready with a glass of milk and rock-hard brownies because the plastic wrap on the front side of the brownie bag was torn.

Or the day I went to dump my raviolis into the pot of boiling water when I pulled back the wrapper and noticed they too were pelted with moldy dots! Turns out the store had kept the raviolis on the shelf a day past the expiry date. Shame on me for not checking. I’d been brainwashed by commercials about freshness, and I was shopping on automatic with the blind assumption that all stores ensure their food is fresh for me. That said, with my apple pie experience, I thought I was in the clear with an expiry date two weeks after the point of purchase. Apparently “fresh” pie lasts for that long.

I talked to the store’s manager and he always said, “Just bring it back.” I said for the amount of time I’m wasting on trips doubling back to return spoiled items, I’d sooner just trek out across town to another place and get it right the first time. Having to bring back an item is a pain in the ass! A grocery clerk should be dispatched to my place instead, bearing fresh food!

It’s my belief that an underground operation is happening at this grocery store. I heard of it 10 years ago when I was dating an intense politically aware guy. He was an anti-establishment boyfriend who listened to the fastest punk-rock music ever with names like “Hellnation” and “Enemy Soil.” Injustice revolted him. He created zines with helpful tips on how to boycott Proctor and Gamble and why milk is bad for you. He also hated big grocery store corporations.

There’s an urban myth that in retaliation to a particular grocery store giant, he and his friends sabotaged food items (i.e., opened cans, punctured wrappers, etc.), which would mean consumers, ending up with the shit food, would not return to the store. Now I’m that customer. And I finally understand.

I’m jolted out of complacency and have begun to rethink my whole grocery shopping experience.

My choice to boycott my local big corporation grocery store was initially elitist. I thought the store was beneath me and I had an “I’m-so-inconvenienced” attitude. But my motivation now is centred on capitalism and consumer culture. That I would get so angry about “not getting my money’s worth” was embarrassing. It underlined my thoughtless consumerist expectations.

That I would get so pissed for having to make another trip to return the spoiled goods revealed my pattern of keeping to my hood instead of venturing off to explore other options like specialty shops in Chinatown or the Polish store on Bell Street. It also emphasized my disconnect from the world, since I was not producing the things I consume.

My anger toward the grocery store has since been replaced by my urge to get DIY into operation in my food life.

In a punk zine the ex-boyfriend created, he wrote, “Make a move to start living in harmony with nature, get rid of cars, weapons, harmful technology, etc. and start collectively working the land for a sustainable population. It sounds like a far-fetched pipe dream, but in reality, many of us have already tried to start moving in this direction. It all starts with DIY, doing things for and by ourselves does help! Even if we can’t see the immediate success of our actions, every time we do something to reclaim a little humanity in our lives, we have won a small battle!”

Well, I took the time to make my own apple crumble the other day. It meant I was in charge of what ingredients went into it. It meant sharing with my friends because real baked goods without the chemical preservatives only last so long. And, unlike the store-bought pies I end up tossing ’cause there’s too much for one person, here there was no waste.

With my own hands and market-fresh apples, I have reclaimed my humanity. And the battle won was sweet-especially with whipped cream.

Speaking of food and battles, have you seen Store Wars? Check it out at:

– Sylvie Hill