Greg White counts the upscale market among his blessings this Thanksgiving.
Being raised Mormon, I took a huge leap of faith every day. Just go see The Book of Mormon—Trey Parker and Matt Stone explain it better through interpretive dance.
There was one pearl hidden subliminally inside the oyster of Mormonism’s nonsense. A simple song we were forced to sing at Bible-point each Sunday that contained the message: Count Your Blessings. That message stuck, and is easily accessible to my gin-addled brain at every second of the day. I take constant inventory or what I am grateful for, and not only at Thanksgiving.
In 2003, grocery store workers in California went on strike. I made the personal choice not to cross the picket line, mostly because blood is hard to get out of good shoes, but also as a sign of solidarity to the kind people who sold me food. I know what it feels like to avert my eyes from a homeless woman on the street, but to feel the visual jabs as I walked through the door at Pavilion’s Market would give me more to worry about than the usual concern of fixing my hair after the anti-fly fan blows it around as I enter. (Note to grocery stores: Those fans mess up people’s hair. People might rather swat a fly off the celery than redo their hairdo.)
Thanksgiving occurred during that strike. As usual, I wrote out my dinner menu, including my standard family traditional foods, and the new dishes I audition each year. It’s a delicate balance. The old standby dishes are all nervous. The canned cranberry sauce shakes in its dish, afraid that the upstart trendy fresh cranberries with orange zest and hand-crafted bourbon that my foodie cousin brought will become more favored. (Have no fear, Ocean Spray, no nouveau cuisine tops the triumph of opening that can and wiggling out its gelatinous contents in one jiggling, but intact piece.)
When it came time to shop for my meal, I panicked a bit about where to go that wouldn’t violate the strike. Could I get fresh sage at 7-Eleven? Whole Foods was the only general market whose labor force wasn’t participating. A branch had recently opened up near my house in Santa Monica; however, their reputation as a pricey health food store preceded them and I had avoided them out of prejudice. Sort of like when you see a glamorous celebrity and they seem so unapproachably perfect and detached from reality. Then you read about how Elvis died on the toilet and you realize that he was just like us and probably nice to know.
I braced myself and went to Whole Foods. You park in an underground structure, and as I drove in and began to navigate the tight turns, around and down to a level with available space, I suspected this was to disorient me—like one spins the masked player in Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Maybe the food prices wouldn’t be as shocking when I was trying to regain my equilibrium.
Space in Santa Monica is valuable, so the store is tight. The carts are smaller, the aisles more narrow. I politely stepped aside when another cart approached—remembering that this was Los Angeles, and road rage led to shootings. I had a turkey to cook, no time to go the ER with a gunshot wound suffered in frozen foods. Cleanup on Aisle Three involving CSI.
I discovered organic foods that day. Not the concept, but the access. I had entered the store fearing they wouldn’t have the basic ingredients I needed, like chicken stock and cornbread. I expected to find some hippie in the store, with a little table set up selling goat milk soap from goats that she personally nursed. She would adjust the papoose holding her own baby as she leaned down to rub soap on my hand. I’d spend hours sniffing glue, trying to get the scent of patchouli out of my nostrils.
Instead I found parsnips and dragonfruit in the produce area, and exotic game at the meat counter. At my usual grocery store, I have had to knock older, slower people out of my way just to ensure I get the exact fresh turkey I want. As I skeptically approached the butcher at Whole Foods, I was met with a variety of wild birds. Not weird banned things like parrot or dodo, but guinea hen, quail and duck. Turns out that once again, prejudice and ignorance are bad.
I bought a duck, and found a labor-intensive recipe involving basting with a balsamic and marmalade reduction. Directions told me to cook it breast side down for four hours for juiciness, then flip it and broil the top for the last hour. When it came out of the oven, it looked as beautifully bronzed as George Hamilton.
I served it, and was surprised at the small amount of meat it produced. My brother went back for seconds and flipped the bird, discovering its proper, meatier side. I had cooked it upside down. Confirmation that I am not a breast man.
I shop at Whole Foods almost exclusively now. I’ve shopped for food in Viet Nam, Istanbul, Rio, and Lubbock. I am grateful that Whole Foods offers such abundant lovely food and that I can make it work within my budget. Should my situation change, I will adapt as needed.
Serving food to the less fortunate in a soup kitchen is humbling and rewarding. It humbles me to see that some have nothing. My reward comes with the renewal of my vow to do everything I can to never become homeless.
As our country struggles with a challenging economy, I count my blessings every day, sometimes every moment that I am able to shop at all.
Image credit: stevendepolo/Flickr