yesterday evening i accompanied my mother to wal-mart for the first time since i’ve been back in the states. thursday will mark two weeks back, and i figured it was time to start telling myself that i’m not going back to uganda in a few days or a week but am going to have to deal with some american things for at least a while. (to answer the question that begs: yes, i want to “go back” to uganda. yes, at length. no, i do not know when or in what capacity yet.)
for the most part the wal-mart experience was what it always has been: a giant box-store with a lot of things that i neither need nor desire with less than stunning but passable produce and a fascinating place for people watching. it was mostly the extreme consumerism that i found disheartening. that and all the christmas stuff out already, which i found disturbing on so many levels.
i was very glad that i was with mom, who had the list and was doing all the choosing of things as there was a moment in the chip/snack section where i had no idea what i would choose if asked to choose something. truth be told, i’d probably have just stuck out my hand and grabbed whatever bag was directly in front of me. (have there always been that many choices of chips [crisps]?!)
oh but then. then! there was the freezer section. frozen foods. for what seemed like miles. mom asked me to look for something specific–there was a brand name involved of a particular…something–that i promptly forgot but peered through the glass at what seemed like hundreds of boxes hoping that if i saw what she said my brain would remember what it was i was looking for. mostly i was just fighting being dizzy.
i’m not sure if it was the lighting or what, but when i looked into the freezer it seemed that the stacks of boxes went on and on and on much farther than they really could. my first thought was to wonder what happens if this food ever expires while its in the store…what happens to it? do any of these sections ever become empty?
even the large grocery stores in uganda sometimes run out of things. like wheat flour, for example. its not uncommon to go into one of the three major chains and find at least some shelves empty. i wondered if, in middle-america, this only happens in the thanksgiving turkey section, toy section during christmas time or the shelf with that one kind of paint you want. [the last one is probably just murphy’s law being played out.]
my thoughts then turned to american cooking culture. i consider myself a bit of a foodie, and a pretty decent cook. those two things combined generally mean that i’d much rather cook my own food with natural, non-processed and preferably local and in season ingredients. so basically, looking into the freezer section in wal-mart i heard norman wirzba, ellen davis and wendell berry weeping. [dr. davis and wendell berry on “land life and the poverty of creatures” brilliant.]
does the average american like to cook? know how? how often does the average american cook? what is an average american?
finally i wondered about the general size of the american people (um. largeish.) and what factor all this “easy” frozen food plays in the declining health of the people of this nation. this final thought had me simultaneously afraid for my own health and nervous for the health of those around me. preservatives kind of scare me.
all of this happened in the span of maybe a minute, and before i could will my brain to remember what mom said we were looking for she had already found it and we were moving on. i refrained from looking into any more of the freezers.
upon arriving back home i pulled three books from my shelf to add to my [re] reading queue: “home economics” [berry], “the paradise of god” [wirzba] and “scripture, culture, and agriculture: an agrarian reading of the bible” [davis] they are great additions to my current reread of “the seven story mountain” [merton]. “the help” and “heaven is for real” and “the hunger games” or other pop-culture-tastic books can wait.
all because of the freezer section.