One year for my birthday my husband took me to one of those snooty-foody restaurants (not to be confused with the cool-foody restaraunts - which I love) that offers a cheese course service before your dinner. (I am convinced that this is simply because they are too cheap to bring me some good bread and some good butter-for free). There was a cheese menu and a cheese pusher lady whose job it was to translate her cheese passion into profits for the restaurant. She assembled the cheesey menu, made cheesey recommendations and served, or rather and quite literally, cut the cheesey cheese. For a girl raised on Velveeta, this was all a bit much. This poor woman kept encouraging me to eat samples of cheese from various and sundry mammals that I didn't even know could be milked - and I was not having it.
When I told her that everything I'd tried tasted less like the cheese of a goat and more like a the stink of a goat , she said "Yes, some of them do have a bit of barnyard on them", and gave up. A bit of barnyard ? My goal in life is to never put anything that has a bit of the barnyard on it in my mouth. I am a very firm believer that what happens in the banyard, stays in the barnyard. In the end, and despite the best efforts of the cheese cutter, we ended up with three kinds of unadventurous and ungoaty cheeses... (but no Velveeta - go figure). I'm sure that the staff felt certain that the cheese had more culture than I did.
(p.s. on the restaraunt thing and in the interest of full disclosure - I have my share of the snoots too. I have acquired over the years, a very strong aversion to all-you-can- eat buffets, for one. I do not like it when people who are not trained in proper food handling techniques have access to my food (ie- other diners and their grubby fingers), and those sneeze guards cause me more than just a little anxiety simply by virtue of the fact that they are called "sneeze guards." I also refrain from consuming any kind of carny food- just so you know.)
It's one thing to feel out of place in a restaraunt, but the real social instution that separates the high and middle income wheat from the low income tares is the grocery store... and once you've chosen a side on this battle ground, it's hard to defect.
I learned this lesson the hard way. Over the past many months, which if you add up might be commonly referred to as "a year", I have been shopping for groceries at Winco. It is a bag-it-yourself, get-it-yourself, cart-it-yourself, (and if the store could figure out a way), pick it/kill it yourself grocery store. I started shopping there after giving up on saving money with coupons at Albertsons'. Prior to that I was actually having my groceries delivered, to my door, by Safeway. (I know that this last one sounds like something that would've scandalized Marie Antoinette, but in my defense, I had a new baby and two other children and I was mainlining Celexa so that I wouldn't go the "Andrea Yates" route. If you do not know what Celexa is then you have never had post partum depression - good for you. I needed to simplify.) Then, last night I needed "just a couple of things", so instead of Winco, I went to the Haggen down the street from my house, (which is a store falling somewhere inbetween Albertson's and Whole Foods).
I realized very quickly that I had experienced a grocery store paradigm shift and the differences were apparent - starting with the dress code. At Winco women are required to wear an oversize Looney Tunes sweatshirt, black or grey stirrup pants (apparently they still make them) and a pair of jellies (any color). You also have the option to accessorize with white athletic socks if desired. (I have to admit that I have yet to comply with said dress code and expect to be getting a formal warning on my next trip.) The dress code for the men is a lot broader, but must include a baseball cap, with the bill pointed in any direction that is comfortable for the wearer.
I would love to have compared this to the "Haggen shopper" standard issue uniform, but I think I was the only one there except the employees, (it was kind of late and it was a Saturday night- I know, sad huh?). The lack of people was a little unsettling. At Winco there are always, and I mean always, huge families spending some quality shopping/fighting time together. Very often on Saturday evenings I will see a family of multiple generations comprised of 7 or 8 adults and about 5 children give or take, out for the weekly food and nose pickin' extravaganza. I have always wondered why some of those adults don't stay home so that their little guys can go to bed. I haven't actually asked... yet. At Haggen? No children. No families.
I noticed lots of things at that Haagen (besides the prices) that clearly said - "Winco shoppers stay out" - lots of prime cuts of meat but no cheap pot roasts big enough to serve for a Mormon Fast Sunday dinner. Organic everything from chicken stock to applesauce but no Cap'n Crunch cereal for my 6 year old (seriously, if you don't sell Cap'n Crunch why are you even in the grocery business?) Carts too small for the "best value" jumbo size toilet paper pack. The list goes on. It seems a little intentional and I get it already.
So it's back to Winco for me. Back to the "aisle of value" that looms large right at the front door. Back to being asked to move my cart in at least three different languages per visit. Back to bags of potato chips so big that my kids could play hide and seek in them. And next time I forget whose side I'm on, I'll wear my jellies and white socks to remind me where I belong.