Whole Foods just isn't cutting it for me. I'm warning you now, this is a rant/lament.
The Whole Foods five minutes from my house is located in one of the wealthiest suburbs in the US. As if Whole Food wasn't intimidating enough with its slick and expensive hipness, I have to go and live near one where almost every customer and I are separated by an annual income of several hundred thousand dollars or more. I have more in common with Cajun gator hunters than I do with these people. A lot more in common.
We drive up in my car, one that was considered a luxury vehicle fifteen years ago but now boasts ripped leather seats and hopeless outdatedness. My children are in day old braids, wisps making a halo around their faces, clothed in an eclectic and slightly filthy mix of handmade, hand me downs, and deep discount; they're like the bright little gypsy girls you see in the Paris Metro, delightfully disheveled, bobbing up and down, hands open like butterflies. No Lilly Pulitzer or Hannah Anderson here, and I'm wearing the same Old Navy jeans I've worn every single day for 6 months.
I am self-conscious about going there. It is crawling with elephantine Lexus and Range Rover SUVs. Moms are lean and toned due to the personal trainers who work with them while their children attend 30k a year private schools. They come shopping in their insanely expensive Yoga pants, planning their next holiday abroad on their phone during checkout. Every park in the area is packed with the nannies who care for their children and at 4PM there is a veritable exodus of household workers plodding tiredly down the street to catch a bus that will carry them back to West Philly and beyond.
It's usually tense inside Whole Foods, because a lot of privileged people have privileged places to go and they want you out of their way. Immediately. And they can see, hear and smell that you are not one of them. The difference is palpable, reinforced by ageless class struggles, resentments, and disdain. It's so clear that the cashiers will ask if I really want to buy something if it rings up at an extravagant price, like seventeen dollars for bing cherries, but do not ask those who can obviously afford it. I certainly do not want to spend that much and they know it; the cashiers usually hired are from my neck of the woods.
Mine is a beautiful life. There's dirt, hard work, grease under the fingernails, laughter, spats, gypsum dust freaking everywhere, toddler talk, sweat, and happiness. I don't wish to live in anyone else's life, nor am I ashamed of who or what we are. I don't want to fit in, but I don't necessarily want to be noticed. I'm a naturally shy person and now that I'm in my thirties and over dyeing my hair the colour of flowers and rocking a septum barbell, I prefer to live under the radar as much as is possible.
It all makes me very much miss the co-op I grew up in. I miss the customers, who were an explosion of such variety that everyone "fit in."The woman who actually bothered to figure out what percentage of her taxes were going to support what, and then didn't pay for those she disapproved of or considered unethical. She miscalculated one year and the IRS sent her a "HA HA! You paid us!" letter - she fumed at the register about it. The radical feminist who couldn't understand why we kept taking down her anti-porn flyer that depicted a naked woman bound to a chair (we thought it wasn't, um, kid friendly enough), the enormously tall transgendered male to female who effected this change over years and was gracious when I apologetically got my pronouns mixed up and couldn't remember her female name. And the usual assortment of tiny girls with giant dreads and hairy armpits, Rastafarians, bearded bluegrass musicians, and jocular, butt pinching pagans. It was like going to a circus where Tom Waits was the ringmaster.
I miss the comfortableness of it. Jokes such as putting the nightly floor sweepings in a package labeled Floor Granola: Dust, oats, mud, dessicated spider...Or the closing time log that began as a way to communicate what we had done during the day but ended up being a raunchy, swear fest of a throw down between made up characters who wrote in impossible dialect. The 5 gallon bucket of homemade bulk tofu people raved over until we weren't allowed to sell it anymore due to "health regulations." The itinerant assistant manager, moonlighting as a puppeteer, teasing me at seven, and deciding that at fifteen I was old enough to be told, in a softly Georgian accent, that boys can't always be believed. All with a fatherly expression, while wearing a yellow baseball hat with silver wings, REM wailing in the background.
The people who worked and shopped at the co-op mindfully chose a lifestyle that set them apart from others. Most embraced living outside the mainstream and their choices were often not the easiest ones. Like feeling that the best way to cut down on your waste, carbon and household, was to bike miles to your co-op, laden down with glass containers, so that you could fulfill your volunteer work for the week and then go bulk shopping. Or to not partake in the status quo of anything, including: gender roles, religion, sexuality, employment, lifestyle, food, consumerism, etc. They were non-conformity warriors. Our co-op and what it represented was what these people believed in; it was never just a place to buy food. It was a community for those of us who either couldn't or didn't want a place inside the norm. It was interesting and alive and my education. Co-op life was like a souk, bursting with hawkers, vibrant goods, and lively clientele. Whole Foods is like going to the mall.
I miss you, Good Neighbor Co-op. If there's a co-op heaven, I know you're there. Sniff.