Thursday, July 29, 2004

Food, grocery stores and idealism

David Brooks, author of “Bobos in Paradise” and the more recent “On Paradise Drive,” has a way of tapping into the sore spots in my generation’s outlook on life, love and consumer goods. I was not surprised, therefore, to see him cited in this week’s Isthmus article on the Madison organic food market expansion.

Why do we shop at Willy Street, Magic Mill and especially Whole Foods? Well yes, because the food is damn healthy and tasty, and efforts are made by the stores to support small, regional farms that have respect not only for the food but for also the environment (meaning they practice sustainable agriculture). A win-win situation –but for the prices.

Enter the cheaper, but still trendy Trader Joe’s. Or – about to enter, since, as the Isthmus piece tells us,  no decision has been made as yet if it will occupy the anointed grocery spot on Monroe Street (EVERY grocer in town wants that spot which lays there waiting for the well heeled click click of Vilas – Edgewood area shoes.) The battle between Trader Joe’s and Willy Street to woo the developers is at the heart of the news story.

But I want to return to the Brooks comment, which addresses (ridicules?) our state of the mind as we enter the grocery store. We are indeed longing for that feel-good market shopping experience. And, ever since Whole Foods and before that, Magic Mill, moved to the west side, grocery shopping has become a happy experience for me. I hated grocery shopping prior to this in the same way that I still hate going to big malls. But is it only because of the better food that I am now happily throwing pricey items into my green cart? Brooks says that the “feel good” experience stems from something else. He writes:

“You get the impression that everybody associated with Trader Joe’s [fill in: Magic Mill, Willy Street, Whole Foods] is excessively good – that every cashier is on temporary furlough from Amnesty International, that the chipotle-pepper hummus was mixed by pluralist Muslims committed to equal rights for women, that the Irish soda bread was baked by indigenous U2 groupies marching in Belfast for Protestant-Catholic reconciliation and that the olive spread was prepared by idealistic Athenians who are reaching out to the Turks on the whole matter of Cyprus.”

Exactly! You mean all that’s not really the case????

I have to add, as a post scriptum, that Brooks doesn’t forget to throw a quick little punch at our restaurant culture. He writes: “the rule in these pedestrian-friendly town centers [nc: hello State street] is ‘Fight a war, gain a restaurant.’ You’ll find Afghan eateries, Vietnamese restaurants, Lebanese diners, Japanese sushi bars alongside dining options from Haiti, Cambodia, India, Mongolia and Moscow.” No wonder there aren’t any Polish eateries – America hasn’t had much grief with Poland in the last century or two. 

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