Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Grocery Store Ponderings

When we moved to Memphis, several grocery stores in town were called Seesel's. I never thought much about where they got their name until one day I was walking from the park back to our campus apartment. This involved walking along a strip of land that ran between two private home properties. I had taken the short cut many times and loved it because of the trees and large patches of moss. But on this day, a man was out working, maybe trimming the hedgerow. I don't remember for sure.

But I felt I should ask permission for walking on the land, and when I did, he said, "Oh, sure that's all right for you to walk through here! That's exactly what Mr. Seesel had in mind! He insisted on leaving this part of the property open so people could walk through to the park. You just come right on ahead."

And I asked and learned that the house to my right was indeed the home the Mr. Seesel of the grocery stores. So that was pretty neat and gave me a reason to like Seesel's (the store) even more than I did. I learned later that the Seesel family started selling food in Memphis in 1858.

I liked the Seesel's near us also because it was the smallest grocery store around. Superlo, the store I most often went to (we were penny-pinching grad school students back then) was pretty small, too. But then they enlarged, and I've never enjoyed them as much since they got so big.

In fact, shortly after Superlo expanded and rearranged things, I happened upon Dr. Lewis, professor emeritus of our graduate school, doing his grocery shopping. This was either after his beloved wife had become very ill or shortly after her death. At any rate, he was there. Even legends with two PhDs (from Harvard and Hebrew Union, nonetheless) have to get food somehow.

I asked him if he was finding everything okay, because I sure wasn't, and he admitted it was rather a challenge. A few minutes later I came across him again. He motioned toward the new murals on the walls, which had been added with the expansion, and said with a wry smile, "They should have written somewhere up there, 'Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.' "

Well, back to Seesel's. A few years back they got "bought out" by a chain called Albertson's, who had the decency to keep the name Seesel's, since the stores had been a foundational part of the local culture. I thought that was classy.

But a few years later, they were bought by Schnuck's, who apparently didn't realize or care how insulting it was to replace the locally appreciated name Seesel's, which just rolls off the tongue (of slow-speaking Southerners especially), to Schnuck's, which no one I talked with liked and some could not even pronounce. But Schnuck's it was, and I started making peace with the name sometime in the past year.

And then, lo and behold, Kroger bought out Schnuck's. Now we have a bajillion Kroger stores in this city, adding to the chain-store culture monotony. At least Schnuck's was a little distinctive--even if, for all I know, they made be rampant in other parts of the country.

Well, tonight I went to Kroger. Not because I'm a fan of Kroger, but because it is still the small store it was before all this transpired, and I was tired and didn't want to walk any more than I had to.

Now, here's the thing that prompted the post.

I was looking for corn meal and baking chocolate and nuts, among other things. So, in most stores, you think "baking goods" or something to that effect, right? The aisle where flour, sugar, salt, oil, corn meal, spices, and all those raw ingredients will be. I couldn't find it anywhere.

I finally asked someone for help, and she pointed me to a certain aisle. How could I have missed it, I wondered? I looked at the sign identifying what the aisle contained, and what did it say?


Yes, it said Cake Mixes. Nothing about baking, nothing about the general nature of the many items that make up the baking section. Just Cake Mixes.

I didn't even know cake mixes existed until I was in junior high or high school. My mother didn't use them. I don't use them. I don't consider them an ingredient, but just something you use when you don't have time to do the real thing. I'm not anti-cake mix, but I don't consider them the main thing on that grocery aisle, for sure.

So, I wonder, what does this mean? What does it say about me? What does it say about our culture? What does it say about the difference between Kroger and other grocery stores?

Does anyone else shop in a grocery store that says Cake Mixes instead of Baking Goods or words to that effect?

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day, and I hope to write something quite different for that, but this, as you can see, is really on my mind.

Plus, I thought you'd enjoy the Dr. Lewis story.

Happy Thanksgiving cooking to you!

(And please note that Dante's name does not have two l's in it. But I liked this photo more than any others I could find.)


Lucy said...

I love this rambling anecdote! I remember my mum being sniffy about cake mixes, also an impression that my Americsan aunty used them more than she did and they were a sign of creeping Americanisation and a veiled sense of threat they were going to take over the world. Actually I think they've probably about held the same position for ages really. Plenty of American bloggers I read seem to be great bakers, and apparently there's a real vogue for baking from scratch in the UK now - people are going out to eat less with the recession etc but are baking up fancy treats at home (and getting even fatter!)

French home cooks bake very little, and never have much, because going to the patisserie has always been such a tradition, and they like glossy tart type things better than hearty cakes and cookies, though muffins are popular now!

Lucy said...

Oh, and I meant to say, happy thanksgiving!

Sheila said...

Happy Thanksgiving to you, too! Love and hugs!

CarolinaGirl said...

Aside from being with Family & Friends on Thanksgiving, the day is all about the food. Where as it's a matter of convenience, I still cringe whenever I hear of people going out to eat on Thanksgiving or buying their food already prepared. It's the one day I don't mind cooking from sun-up to whenever. I'm not sure I'd follow a "cake mix" sign to find its separate ingredients.