Point Me

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

More like, Big Sigh

Yesterday, when I was driving home, I swung by the nearest Big Y to buy groceries for the week. Working hither and thither and yon has given me the opportunity to go shopping in quite a few different local Big Y’s. This was the first time I had ever visited the one in Northampton, and it was quite the experience. I don’t think I’d ever been in Big Y so nice. The entryway had wood flooring, and instead of numbered lights on the checkout, they had decorative lanterns, each one boasting black construction paper silhouettes of pumpkins and ghouls for Halloween.

I couldn’t help notice the huge difference between this store, and the one I went to when I was working in Ware. It was almost like two totally different brands of store. While the Northampton Big Y has high ceilings and lots of bright, natural light, the Ware store has a feeling of dinginess you just can’t shake. The biggest and most noticeable difference though, is the way food is arranged and marketed in the store.

The Amherst store, which I go to most frequently, has twice the amount of fresh, local produce as the Ware store does. In the Ware store, canned vegetables make up one half of an aisle, and candy is on the other. Imagine trying to take a kid down that aisle to get corn and cauliflower, with all those sweets staring them in the face. It’s like a prescription for a temper tantrum. This basically sums up the situation, but the discrepancies are stark and many. Amherst has a takeout counter with brick oven pizza and rotisserie chicken. Ware has a grab and go section that is a cooler with some of the grossest looking sandwiches I’ve ever seen surrounded by displays of fun size chocolate bars. Northampton has a sizeable selection of fine wines and microbrew beers. Ware has more than one aisle for soda.

It kind of goes hand-in-hand with what I was talking about earlier this month. Healthy eating habits are learned, not instinctual. And it’s hard to imagine teaching yourself a new, healthy diet when the fruit snacks are in the same section of the store as the fresh fruit (yes, really). I’ll admit too, that I found myself coming home with more junk food than usual. Treats that I’d usually skip over dominated the end of aisle displays, and were strategically placed near healthier options. It was hard not to notice. So I guess the question is: why is a struggling community with so many people on government food assistance mitigated to such unhealthy options?

It’s sort of a chicken and egg situation. Are these aisles organized this way because of the shopping preferences of the community, or is the community buying these foods because of their strategic placement in the store. Either way, it’s clear that Big Y sees it’s stocking practices in terms of dollar signs, not diet.

PS: I'm supposed to add a disclaimer that these are my personal opinions, and do not reflect the opinions of the food bank of western MA.

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