Tuesday, October 24, 2006

covered with plastic

It’s the significant commercial event of the decade: Trader Joe’s has opened a store in Madison. And maybe it’s a great match: so much organic at such minimal prices. It suits us Madisonians in all ways. We are all about the fresh and the frugal. [We care, we care, it’s just that so many of us are state employees. Our salaries rarely go up much and when they do, they just barely catch up to the inflation index of ten years back. On a personal note, Trader Joe’s seems especially well suited for a state employee who counts the hours and the Euros ‘til her next trip across the ocean.]

And yet…

This morning I get an email from the president of the board of our local food cooperative, the Mifflin Street Co-op. Food for the people! -- reads their slogan. I am a member, though a reluctant one. I cannot get myself to spend good money on wilted produce and their produce is more than just mildly wilted. No matter. After so many years of service, they are shutting down. Something about unpaid taxes, mismanagement, etc etc. The usual.

And so I go to Trader Joe’s. Might it become my neighborhood store? I do love shopping at Whole Foods, prices notwithstanding, I do! Will I love shopping at TJ’s?

No, probably not. I walk back to the loft with two heavy bags filled with various foods. Thirty minutes along the most ugly and boring stretch of Madison roadway and I think: buying food has to be beautiful. Returning home with it along the ugliness that is Regent Street (or, in the alternative, that ugly snippet of the bike path) takes much beauty out of the expedition.

And the plastic. For decades, we have suffered a disassociation from out food sources. Plastic has separated us from the meats and produce that we eat, so that we have conveniently permitted outselves to forget about tending to our gardens, our herds. And here we go again: most everything at Trader Joe’s is bagged and wrapped. I bought eight roma tomatoes even though I only needed four. I picked up chocolate covered banana chips, neatly wrapped and ready to throw into my cart, even though I needed none.

Oh, I appreciated the prices. If I am going to buy mediocre wine, I am happy to spend only $2.99 for it.

Still… I walked home from Trader Joe’s thinking how passive we are about navigating ugly scapes and indifferently presented foods. My best visuals for the day? A clump of seed pods and, further down the block, the reflection of the sky in the windows of the Kohl’s Center. I wish there was more to say about it all, but there really isn’t. Sigh...

october 06 487

october 06 490