The Grocery Liberation Front

As often as I can justify it — and often even when I can’t — I will drive ten miles out of my way to go shopping at the locally-owned Food Co-Op in Davis, rather than the big Safeway here in Dixon. Call it my own little bit of anti-corporate rebellion (well, that and refusing to use Microsoft products if I can possibly get away with using open-source tools).

Today I didn’t get to go to the Co-op; I needed salmon fillets and I know that the Co-op only carries salmon steaks, the big kind which I think are meatier and tastier but which unfortunately have bones… and one of our dinner guests this evening is unfortunately allergic to bones. And I know for a fact that the Co-op, unfortunately, only carries the steaks and not the fillets.

Still, though, I sort of managed to carry out today’s rebellion. On a flimsy excuse — I managed to remember that Jennifer had said we will soon need more cat litter, of the brand that is only available in an independent store in Davis — I left Dixon and went to another supermarket that isn’t Safeway. It’s not the Co-op, but it’s at least owned by a local family and not a mega-corporation. My salmon was still wrapped in plastic and styrofoam, but at least I felt like I struck my blow.

There’s just something about the mega food chains that kind of disturbs me. Safeway in particular. They have weird policies which are supposed to make the customers feel welcome, such as making sure that they look at a customer’s credit card receipt and calling the customer by their last name, a practice which I find intrusive and just plain rude. Frankly, if I want to be called by name by the clerk at the check-out counter, I want it to be because I know that person and not because they were told to by their manager. It may be petty, but I find it annoying enough to want to avoid Safeway if possible (not to mention the annoying habit they have of not even bothering to ask me if I want paper bags — there’s a little sign on each counter that says, "We will bag in plastic unless otherwise requested", but I admit that I get a petty little thrill out of pretending to ignore that sign, then waiting until the clerk has started loading a plastic bag before saying, "Oh, sorry, I need a paper bag, I didn’t hear you ask" or something equally obnoxious).

The managers in Safeway don’t look like they know food. They look like I should be asking them to handle my taxes and not my vegetables. They wander the aisles, clipboards in hand, wearing ties — TIES, fer cryin’ out loud, in a grocery store! I guess this is supposed to look professional, but a guy in an apron and work shirt and lugging a box of bananas looks a lot more like someone I’d ask about produce than the guy in the tie and clipboard.

Which is why I’ll just go to the Co-Op. The service there is genuinely friendly, mostly because the staff is primarily made up of hippies and students who work there because they think it’s cool to do so. I might disagree with them on some of their values — I don’t think we necessarily have to boycott certain products anymore, for example, and I don’t have a problem with pesticides on my food except that organic produce tends to taste better — but I like the atmosphere. They don’t pretend that they know me when they don’t, so it’s not intrusive and rude. And they always bag in paper. And they’re right next to my favorite sushi restaurant (not a chain restaurant), and to one of my favorite bookstores (also not a chain).

I’m not as fanatical about the issue as I suppose I could be. I’ll get coffee at Starbuck’s, and when I want to read and drink coffee in a social setting I’ll probably go to Borders (mostly because there isn’t a coffee shop right next to the public library). But on the whole, I know that the fact that I’d prefer to go out of town to a locally-owned grocery stories or drink microbrewed beer or eat at a restaurant that isn’t a chain will occasionally make Jennifer look at me in that special way that says, "What in God’s name do you think you’re doing? The chicken at Safeway is half the price!"

Still… sometimes the view from my high horse can be quite attractive.