In getting a sense for how the American people obtain their food, I took to the streets, exploring three establishments where one may buy food. These three had to be from each of the following categories: a supermarket, a small-scale grocer, and a farmer’s market. Among my options from each category, I chose the supermarket, Kroger, a smaller grocer, Whole Foods, and the Lansing City Market, a farmer’s market. Each had a distinct environmental vibe created by the products and the values behind those products.
My three-tiered journey began at a Whole Foods market, particularly the location on East Grand River Avenue in East Lansing. As I began, immediately I was met with vibrant stimuli. Black chalkboard signs displayed descriptions of available produce in many different colors. The accompanying fruits and vegetables appeared below in rustic-looking wooden containers. I strolled past the produce towards the meat and fish area, where I noticed a very large variety of fresh fish. Afterwards, I came across cuts of beef in a perpendicular glass case, each marked with an “animal welfare rating”. This communicated a value which prioritized fair treatment of animals before profit and productivity. Furthermore, the chicken came next, most varieties having a marker that advertised them as non-G.M.O.. I encountered this and thought about whether the general public was aware that this is referring to their feed rather than the chickens themselves. As writer Amy Harmon refers to in a New York Times article titled, “How Square Watermelons Get There Shape and Other G.M.O. Misconceptions”, the misconception out there is that the poultry we eat comes from chickens who have been genetically modified, yet this is simply due to selective breeding. As I continued on, what struck me the most was the availability of different food types. The far left corner of the store featured multiple stations where shoppers could purchase ice cream, coffee and pizza. All of these had actual store employees behind the counters, catering to customers. One not only gathered information about the food, but also took note of their fellow shoppers. The majority were young, college-age likely. Many wore business casual clothes, as if they had come from work. One noticed cultural diversity as well, there did not seem to be a single dominant race/ethic group. Altogether, I got the feeling that Whole Foods strives to market to those in search of good, honest food with a welcoming community environment.
The next stop on my journey brought me to the Lansing City Market on City Market Drive in Lansing. At this so-called farmer’s market, there were stands for food, but also many for different goods and services. There was a restaurant named, “Guyton’s”, that offered fine dining. An area where a woman was selling fresh flowers and a souvenir shop with clothes and Lansing paraphernalia for sale. Other booths offered local cheeses and even nutritional coaching services. However, the most dominant element was the large bar area where most of the patrons had gathered. It was a little after 5 o’clock so it made sense that five or six high top tables would be full of men and women in business attire. As I studied these people, I saw an enjoyable environment, as if many of these people were regulars. The market appeared to be a convention of many different area businesses. The prices were not particularly high but the environment favored gourmet over grocery. At any rate, the City Market offered a variety of different goods and services making it a great place to explore for any Lansing area individual with a few extra dollars to spend.
As my excursion came to an end, I headed to the Kroger in Lansing. I looked around, first noticing packaged cakes, cookies and other sweets. Then, I came to the meat and poultry counter where I saw a healthy sampling of cuts. Next came the produce section, where the most intriguing finds came. First, I spotted what looked like orange cauliflower and an unfamiliar plant that was labeled “broccoflower”. Surely, both creations involved human intervention, perhaps breeding. Moreover, I noticed a price increase in organic broccoli versus ordinarily grown broccoli. The organic variety was $2.29 per pound while regular broccoli was $1.99 per pound. I wondered if the store sells more of the organic or the conventionally grown variety of this and other items. Lastly, I recalled that there were WIC labels on only the Kroger brand shredded wheat, crispy rice and corn Chex cereals. This must be a small glimpse into the causal evidence as to why the WIC program leads to better developmental outcomes. Overall, the prices were reasonable, including a large portion of the population. Many items had a sale price displayed. However, directors Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson, would likely disagree with this notion that the supermarket offers abundance to all. As they note in their 2012 documentary, A Place at the Table, some 50 million Americans are food insecure. For those who did have disposable income for food, the supermarket was true to its name. Consumers had a great degree of choice over how expensive, healthy, processed, etc. they wanted their food to be.
As I reflected on the entire endeavor, I saw many divergent elements between the three locations. Whole Foods demonstrated a value for safety and morality first, food later. While the supermarket put more emphasis on accessibility and affordability. The Market, more than either of the other locations, valued creating a one of a kind experience. Also, the Market and the Whole Foods market seemed to market to more of middle to upper class demographic while the supermarket was geared to all, encouraging thrifty shopping. Altogether, in each of the three locations I saw polite interactions between customers and store employees. All in all, a look down the aisle at three different places we buy our food revealed a lot about the cultural, socioeconomic, and moral values behind our eating.