Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Judgment days

I will tell you that the judgments I render at the market are ... well ... crass.


Perhaps you haven't been aware that every day is Judgment Day at the market. And we're the judges. When you're next in line at the check stand, don't you politely obliquely eye every item laid upon the counter by the checking-out pilgrim, and then do you not render personality judgment on what the selections reveal?

I do. Every day I be de judge, but I thought it was a personal character flaw until a couple of days ago when, as I slid my purchases across the scanner, I turned and saw that they were under scrutiny. Usually I focus on what the scanner's doing, but I was buying only the bread-and-butter stuff and I prefer not to know each item's price because it makes me ill-humored. So I turned to judge the purchases of the next pilgrim.

My first impression was she seemed to be a typical self-assured local. She didn't have a cart, only a basket slung on her arm and the basket held only a bag of Brussels sprouts, which made me curious—who'd come to the market just for Brussels sprouts? But then I saw she was scribbling on a notepad. Obviously she was listing my purchases one by one and making no pretense to be politely oblique.

Who was this woman? Was she gathering data for General Foods or Wal-Mart? Worse—what if she was a psychiatrist doing a weird psychiatric survey? I blushed when I remembered the quart of Cookies 'n Cream and economy-sized chocolate sauce I bought only yesterday. I was glad they weren't there to be recorded today.

Anyway, I realized there's a flip side to my marketing judgments—I'm being judged too. Likely it's universal, this judging, though we surely don't all judge by the same standards. Those a rung up on the evolutionary ladder might check to see if their pilgrim places proper emphasis on buying local produce, though even those of us a rung or two below have come to know that transporting delectables from far away places causes jillions of hectares—or whatever—of greenhouse gases to be belched into the mess we're making there. But this early in the year there aren't many carts with only potatoes and onions and carrots, and it's not worth judging local until late summer and an extravagance of luscious local harvestings.

Bill McKibben, not of the Wood River Valley, ate only locally grown food for a year and lived to write a best-selling book about it, "Deep Economy." I asked Carl, my produce mentor at Atkinsons', to point out the locally grown food and it would all have fit in a telephone booth. We Wood River Valley pilgrims shall have to witness a giant pucker in the ADM behemoth if ever we're to have a hope of surviving on what's grown locally.

I will tell you that the judgments I render at the market are ... well ... crass. I decide right then and there if the scrutinized pilgrim is someone I could take to. Here's how I do it: Less than a third of the shoppers are what I dub "Rigidly Healthy." They never buy anything canned or frozen, never white breadstuffs, never a package of Oscar Meyers, and certainly never Cookies 'n Cream and chocolate sauce. I marvel at these pilgrims and look at them with wonder. I never have been and never shall be of the Rigidly Healthy, though I'm sure that one-on-one we'd hit it off.

Next are "Hybrids." That's what I am, that's what most of us are. The stuff in our carts is a mess of contradictions: lovely fresh asparagus alongside cans of corn or peas; a bag of tart Granny Smiths next to a pack of Snickers; a half-gallon of whole milk and a six-pack of Diet Pepsi. Almost everything we Hybrids buy is either good or evil, as Rev. Falwell, may he rest in peace, always said.

Third, there are "Off-putting" carts. Among the selections I usually see in these piled-high carts is a long swish of flowers rolled in tissue, exotic veggies from afar, Big Wood bread—multi grain or olive—a cheese I can't pronounce to go with out-of-season fruit, and a bottle of wine priced just a smidgen below three digits.

I don't have much in common with Off-puttings—we'd not be likely to hit it off. Besides, no surprise, even though I don't know what this Off-putting is driving I've already pretty much decided it's a Hummer. I told you my market judging is crass.

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