For a number of reasons with which I don’t want to bore you just now, over the past several years we’ve made decisions to purchase only organic, free range, grass-fed meats and also reduce all processed white things that either are sugar or become sugar once processed by the gut. Our choices evolved over time and reflected the fact that we could afford to spend somewhere in the vicinity of $100 per week on protein alone. For three people. Add organic produce, exotic seeds and grains, and all of the health-and-beauty, cleaning-and-storage, and animal-related products that seem to evaporate immediately after having been purchased…and we were regularly regurgitating money into the fledgling mouths of Giant Eagle corporate.
For a number of other reasons with which I also don’t want to bore you, over the past several months we’ve needed to modify all of our grocery decisions given recent financial considerations. So…it’s “5 meats for 20 dollars” for us, and similar decisions throughout the entire grocery store.
This sets the stage for an experience that unexpectedly kicked me in the emotional twig and berries.
Nut butters’ shelves, aisle one, New Kensington Giant Eagle
Greg (A lethargic though determined shopper. Kind and personable. Not bothering anybody. Not intentionally, at least.)
Lady (A well-dressed fifty-something, hair and make-up meticulous and severe – like a waning stage actress, Starbucks coffee in one hand.)
Greg approaches the nut butters from stage left. Lady is standing in front of said nut butters, scanning indecisively, shopping cart in front of her as Greg arrives head on. Greg parks his cart unobtrusively near an end cap and again approaches the seemingly immovable lady with cart.
Here I’d like to step out of that third person, dramatic convention to resume the role of narrator.
I kneeled between the lady’s cart and the Jif section, looking up at her and immediately letting her know, “I’m just going to slip in here. You’re fine. No need to move at all…unless you need me to shift?” I was met with silence. She looked at the Jif container near which my hand was hovering. She looked back at me. Her visage unclear, though I sensed harsh judgment. I was in a position of complete vulnerability, she of superiority. “That’s bad,” is what pounced out of her mouth. I continued to look at her, mouth agape now. I’m sure the happy-guy mask on my face began to melt incrementally into something approaching perplexed and indignant. I thought I understood her but at the same time it never struck me that I would be peanut-butter shamed by a middle-aged church-matron toting a grande pumpkin spice latte. (Yes, I had enough time to process that fact.) My brain finally jumped to action, but instead of chastising her, or ignoring her, or changing the topic, or walking away, or doing anything that would make sense…it decided to go the self-shame route, “I know, it’s just…,” and she interrupted me. “All that palm oil is destroying the rain forests.”
She reminded me so much of the several patronizing, emotionally controlling women who plagued my childhood and early adulthood and tap-danced all over my tenuous sense of self, low-grade anxiety, and perfection-drive. I was, as a Brit might say, gob smacked. Speechless. But the anger started to creep in. This hooker was holding her ground, turning her head to take a sip of that shitty, overpriced, balogna-tasting latte, turning back to me. Not budging her cart. She was going to teach me a lesson.
Do I explain the reason for my decision? Do I tell her that I would normally purchase the overpriced organic peanut butter? Do I stand up and whisper, “Fuck…right…off, you old judgmental bitch,” maintaining a Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance batshit crazy smile? Do I point out the fact that she’s a walking contradiction as she pseudo-cries on the inside for some generalized spoon-fed, regressive (…when did the regressives start to outnumber the progressives…) concept of “the rain forest” – leather boots with rubber bottoms made in some Chinese factory where suicide rates are close to those of returned war veterans, make-up that is only safe to put on her face…maybe…after the death and dismemberment of countless animals and massive environmental degradation along the way, sweatshop clothing made affordable by the carcinogen-exposed bodies of hundreds of Central American children, scads of plastic bags which will only serve to clog up the planet even further, and that goddamn shitty Starbucks coffee which is utterly unaffordable to every brown-skinned woman who picks the beans in South America or Africa so that Starsucks corporate can simply burn them unrecognizable and charge you a 5,000% mark-up while you live out your clueless, NPR, holier-than-thou, save-the-planet life unaware of the suffering you cause even by standing in this fucking Giant Eagle?!
I just kneeled there, my internal hate mechanism telling me, “You know she’s right.”
And she walked away, leaving me with, “Well, if that’s the worst thing you do today I suppose you’re fine.”
I stood slowly, backing away from the Jif, looking at the peanut butters, stunned. I looked up palm oil and deforestation. A wretched curse and a glorious blessing are the internet and Google. I was incapable of doing anything…but pouring anger into my psychic trough. I wanted to throat punch her. I wanted to explain myself. And I knew that ultimately she was just a kind-of shitty person who felt the need to spew her beliefs into the world. And I knew that I should just pick up the jar of Jif and get on with my life. But I didn’t. I stood there and contemplated my life, my decisions, and the state of the world.
And I bought a jar of peanut butter that was both organic and without palm oil. But still Smuckers…because I know how much money is in my account. So, it was the worse compromise decision possible. And. AND…knowing that this decision would do absolutely NOTHING for deforestation, for world hunger, for income disparity, for corporate greed, for clueless liberal propagandizing, or for my physical or emotional health.
I walked by that lady three more times as we made our way through the store. She’d entirely forgotten about me and the interaction at the nut butter.
She’ll lose no sleep over it. She’ll drink another pumpkin spice latte and absolutely love it. She’ll turn her nose up at Jif and Proctor and Gamble and she’ll continue to take in NPR and whatever her pastor says.
Fortunately, I also will lose no sleep. Though I will have spent the several hours it took me to release all of this onto screen, and whatever additional time is necessary for revision.
And I will continue to struggle with all that I’ve yet to resolve.
But resolution will come.
Albeit with cheap peanut butter.