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2007 02 26
Hunting and Gathering

Hunting and gathering at our local No Frills (on Pacific Avenue in the Junction), Peter and I often separate in the interests of quick passage through aisles chaotic with Saturday shoppers pillaging flats of ramen noodles and discounted tuna. Our usual approach is to combine a flanking maneuvre with a rear-guard action, meeting near the cash registers for the final skirmish, but sometimes one or the other of us gets distracted by the bargain rack near the eggs at the back (mint jelly for a quarter; dented cans without labels for fifty-nice cents) or gets caught behind a motorized dolly hauling cabbages and kingfish.

On Saturday the store was crowded with weekend shoppers and I had to go looking for Peter, who had been held up unaccountably near the deep freezers. Hauling recycled boxes of chick peas, cheese, and a jar of twenty-five cent mint jelly to the car, Peter told me what had delayed him. Noticing Peter peering down one of the aisles, a man passing by had remarked,
It’s always in the last place you look. Because once you find it, you stop looking.
A non sequitur that stopped Peter in his tracks. Sounds like Plato, he said to me as we drove off.

And it turns out it was: Plato's paradox of knowledge; an observation by Meno that knowing what you seek to learn makes seeking it unnecessary, to which Socrates responded by developing his theory of anamnesis, an approach to recovering the knowledge we already have but have forgotten.

And isn't that what grocery shopping is about? Even beyond the shopping lists we forget at home and the merchandise that seems to move erratically from aisle to aisle, there's something else we would do well to remember. Something about where and how the foods we consume so voraciously and easily were grown and harvested or slaughtered. Not because we should feel guilty, necessarily, but because we should know.

A month or so ago, under the rows of plastic-sealed tomatoes in a large cardboard flat at the No Frills, we found a little lizard, dead and flattened after its long journey from Central America to the Junction. Not knowing how to respond, we left it there, a reminder far more visible than the country-of-origin stickers on the vegetables themselves.

Because most of us live in the city, we can't easily cultivate our own crops, and buying organic is hardly an alternative to the many who cannot afford their high cost. However, I'm thinking of signing up for the Good Food Box, and this summer we'll be growing our own tomatoes.

[Shopping cart image by Ned Lyttleton and used under the aegis of a Creative Commons license.]
[email this story] Posted by Amy Lavender Harris on 02/26 at 11:19 AM

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