Jan 19, 2007

Grazers at Whole Foods

Today I went to Whole Foods. Not because I like the place, but because it sells the food I need to buy. Plus, I was meeting my friend Mim for lunch, and their café sells food I eat. So I arrived early and wrote until Mim got there.

I've written about my distaste for the snobs who shop there. Forget that a lot of my friends shop there; I mean the overall clientèle. The rich, privileged Westsiders who are educated about the benefits of organic food, but willfully ignorant of the dangerous toxins of being an asshole.

Where else can you get organic goat milk gouda, or cumin encrusted sheep's milk Jalisco? Today the shoppers were relatively calm. Although one man shoved his way toward the bulk chocolate trail mix and did not write the price code on his tag. (this helps the cashier from having to look up the item from a list of hundreds of codes. Not for him, this man was important. He needed his organic chocolate fix. We needed to move. I had to ask a woman to let me past her cart to get an item from the shelf, which she was blocking. She was not happy about it. I beamed, THANK YOU SO MUCH!

I took my food to the café and took out a notebook. I was having writers block at home. had forgot the freedom of writing long hand, with a real pen and ink, in my own organic scrawl. I wrote a lot. Last March I was in New York for a week, and my friend Chris Myers and I went to the Whole Foods at Columbus Circle to write. Getting one of those round booths was an ordeal. And you had to show your receipt that you bought food there in order to stay. but we got the booths and we wrote up a storm.

I remember my most prolific writing period: it was when my life had seemingly fallen apart, I couldn't stop crying, so I went to anonymous cafes, wore sunglasses, put on the headphones and wrote. And wrote. I can't say that the material was much good. But the act of writing helped me get through the day. And eventually got me to write good stuff. It was good to sit there and work.

Today, I noticed a segment of the population I haven't noticed at Whole Foods before: single old men. There were at least three old men eating there by themselves. Two of them were quite old and shuffled, hunchback, to their tables, to consume their lunch.

Little old men make me cry. They seem so helpless and lonely. Little old women do fine. They're home making their lunch. And afterward, they'll have knitting and cross stitch to do. But what can little old men do?

One man managed to get his plate to the table next to me. He sat facing my direction on the far corner of the table. I wondered if this was his only hot meal of the day. Maybe he opens a can of Campbells at night. I wondered if he was ever married, if he had family close by. I wondered if he felt lonely or he liked his life just as it was.

At one point he was looking blankly for a napkin, so I got him one. He smiled and told me he had dropped his, and couldn't reach for it. I smiled and continued to write, because I didn't want him to see I had teared up.

The New York Times published an article this week stating that for the first time in recorded history, the majority of American women are living without a spouse. Whether they're divorced, widowed, never married, or living with someone they're not married to; they're alone.

And I realized again why Whole Foods does well. It creates the home cooked meals for those who don't have a home at home. Who don't have a family to cook for or eat with. I wondered what Whole Foods is going to look like in 30 years. Maybe we'll see more old ladies here. Ladies who never learned to cook for a husband or family. Ladies who have no one to knit for or crochet.

I thought how our culture is in such deep trouble. We are so isolated from each other and ourselves.

One of the lies of Whole Foods is that incidental salvation can be found in buying better food. It may be good food, and it may be healthy for you. But Whole Foods is nothing like the average Mom & Pop health food stores that are run by aging hippies who grow their own wheat grass and ride the bus. Whole Foods has a creepy cultish feeling to it. Like you've walked into a pagan temple only the rich can enter. It makes me uneasy. I realize there's always something good underneath a popular movement, or else it wouldn't be popular. But I will make an effort to patronize Rainbow Acres and The Co-Op and LifeSource before I go back to Whole Foods.

Mim arrived and we chatted for a while. I noticed during the course of our lunch another man had come in on his own. Only he wasn't a sweet little old man. He was a chubby middle class baby boomer man. Baseball cap, Bubba Gump sweatshirt, and a stack of mail. Maybe he'd recently separated and stopped to get his mail at the house before his estranged wife got home from her broker job.

What drew our attention was, he kept going up to the soup bins and taking samples of the soup. You know those little plastic cups they provide for you to scoop out salad dressing? They can't be bigger than 1/8 of a cup. He kept going over to the soup and 'sampling it.' At first, he pretended to be curious about it, as if this, his fourth sample, was only his first. But then he went back, took yet another sample, and returned to his mail.

I noticed soon afterward that a slightly anorexic woman in a sophisticated track suit and a severe face lift was doing the same thing. Sampling the soup and going back to her table. She didn't have a stack of mail to read. She just sat there.

We stared at Bubba. Perhaps he felt our stares, because he collected his mail and left his table. He proceeded to go to back to the soup tureen, only this time he did take one of their paper soup container. Yet rather than ladle out soup and going to pay, he stood in front of the tureen, drank it down, and refilled his container. It wasn't until a woman stood behind him, waiting to get in, did he leave. And got back to his table. He rummaged for his keys in his big fat shorts.

Oh my gosh is he going to leave and not pay?
I envisioned myself running after him and saying, "hey fat ass, go back and pay for your soup."
I asked Mim what we should do. Turn him in!
But he eventually walked toward the counter to pay. For a meager 6 oz container of soup, when he'd probably consumed a quart.

I wonder how Jesus would react? Would he have compassion for them? Or would he think they were selfish brats, like I do? Or would he look at me and say, "beware of the pharisee who sits in the temple saying, "I'm better than these people because I pray and fast, and I tithe."


Yogadawg said...

I like your take on Yoga. Though I am a fairly serious Yogi, I get a bit put out with alot of the Yoga-hooey that goes on in the studios. My website is a take on that attitude. Yogis are finding it funny, so it must have hit a nerve. Have to work your idea of "Yoga Jargon" into my act. All the best.

Anonymous said...

A correction on the marriage statistics, which were distorted in the original article. First, it was "not living with a spouse," rather than not married. The statistics were bent to include 15-19 year olds who are probably living with their parents, widows who were married for most of a lifetime, AND women whose husbands who were out of the home, i.e. deployed to Iraq.

Stephanie said...

So ... Susan ... do you suppose it's to our current society's credit that we allow the gleaners at the edges of the field? Or is it to our shame that we try not to notice ....?


Susan Isaacs said...

Stephanie makes a point. It is to our shame that we shoo away people who really need to glean, and let the wealthy Bubba Gump idiots go on grazing ...

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