Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Traitor (to) Joe's

I like Trader Joe's. You know this. Ex-roommate-Sarah (who at the time was still Roommate-Sarah) got me into shopping there about six months ago, I guess. I like their food and their ambience, and their prices are usually not too bad, either. They also have some pre-made dinners which are not scary, taste good, and seem to be made of more or less healthy products.

And, of course, conversation with the people at the registers is always enlightening. A couple of weeks ago, I made friends with an older British chap, who was very personable and probably more chatty than the people behind me in line would have wished. He told me that his daughter recently tossed strawberries with balsamic vinegar, pepper, and sugar, and then put them on vanilla ice cream. According to him it was delicious. Being an avant garde eater, I tried it, and--what do you know?--he was right.

You can't really put a price tag on interactions like that.

But Price-Rite is just around the corner from where I work. Someone at church said, "You should go there. Their food's really cheap!" Probably less likely to be organic, though. Still, sometimes cheap is what I need the most. Not to mention right around the corner. Our closest Trader Joe's really is not that. So yesterday, as my section of the fridge was fresh out of everything, I went to Price-Rite.

Thus I discovered where all the non-European Americans go to do their grocery shopping. Or maybe, where very few of the European Americans go. Seriously--there are so few places I go in town, and they are always so overwhelmed with people of European stock, I'm sometimes not very sure there is anyone else in this city.

But at Price-Rite, I felt like I was back on Green Street. There may not have been much certifiably organic produce there, but there were multiple kinds of avocado, plantains and cooking bananas (there's a difference?), piles of mangoes, lychees, papaya, every "green" imaginable, and that was just the produce aisle. The bakery section boasted Jamaican sweetbread and things I had only ever seen on shelves in East London. The aisle of Goya products was extensive. (I also learned that I should be harvesting dandelions from my yard, because they were selling huge leaves of the stuff for 99 cents a bunch.)

The whole experience reminded me how much I miss a multi-cultural milieu. It's pretty easy to get used to being the majority ethnic group if you get the chance to be, and I am used to it, I'm reluctant to say. But the thing that I loved so much about East London was not being the majority.

I've had people accuse before me of trying to be part of a culture that I'm not. I guess that happens sometimes. Probably it's good for each of us to be secure in who we are within our birth cultures. But it's also possible, I think, to really thrive on crossing cultural barriers--and that can be just as much a part of "who I am" as the fact that I'm what is typically called "white" and that I'm from the United States. Or maybe moreso. Just because I'm likely to don a shalwar kameez or a sari for a Pakistani baby's first birthday doesn't mean I think I am Pakistani, or that I think I know anything about being Pakistani, even. But there are aspects of that culture that I like, and that I'm willing to investigate, try out, enjoy--and that enjoyment of those things is, I feel, in part what makes me, me.

I don't know what the Jamaican or Ghanaian or Indian or Puerto Rican subcultures of my city are really like--most particularly because I don't truly know any of their representatives, if anyone can truly be said to represent a group in that way. But it was kind of a relief to know that there are some, and to get myself into another environment for a change. Trader Joe's hasn't lost my business completely--but in spite of offering pretty decent attempts at world cuisine, there are some things they just don't offer. At least not in my neighbourhood.


dave grosser said...

It's ok, Jenn.

Yeah, and I *so* want to know where the "Price-Rite" is in Madison.

Heather said...

I love Trader Joe's and have been waiting, waiting, waiting for us to get one here in Dallas (put in a good word for me, will ya?).
I live in the suburbs, so you'd think it would be all Mrs. Baird's, but surprisingly, I'm more likely to run into an Asian or South African immigrant (Asian because of the many Asian markets and South African because some close friends are and introduce us to their friends...) than a born and bred. I love it.

The Cubicle Reverend said...

I have yet to go to trader joes. I am more of a wegmans fan. Plus we have some good farmer's markets near me. And I have to go for cheap. Thank you produce junction.

Barry Pike said...

That balsamic vinegar, strawberry thing sounds pretty groovy. I'm going to see if I can round that up and try it this weekend.

Here, by the way, is an interesting blogpost about balsamic vinegar: http://www.hungryinhogtown.com/hungry_in_hogtown/2007/07/it-seems-fittin.html

International groceries are very cool. Anytime we trek over to Indianapolis, the Trader Joe's there is a scheduled stop.

Jenn said...

If we ever leave Tucson, I don't know what I'll do without Trader Joe's. Seriously. (the yogurt, the blue cheese, the Italian sodas, wine at a good price. . . mmmmm) But I identify with the grocery store dillemna because there's definitely a monolithic clientele at TJ's. Who would ever think that grocery shopping could be so complicated???