I never in a million years would have thought that a grocery cart full of dairy products (well, actually 2 carts) could break my heart, but today it happened. I work in a grocery store, and since I resigned from teaching to spend more time on writing, I took a different position in order to have more convenient hours. I’m not really sure if it is a promotion, but I got a raise and I’m out of there by 3 o’clock every day with weekends off. So, I was fairly excited about that prospect. I went from running the front end, cashiering, customer service, balancing and reconciling money to working in that back receiving all of the product that comes into the store. With this duty comes the task of dealing with reclaim – damaged or out of date merchandise that is sent back to the warehouse. I don’t really know what happens to that product, but I fill up boxes and ship it back according to “standard practice”. There is a different “standard practice” for anything that is perishable like frozen food or dairy items, and I realize that I have a huge philosophical and ethical problem with what i am required to do with perishable product.
People usually say that I’m a hippie. I’m cool with that. I want everyone to love everyone, and I don’t believe in violence or shows of force. I am an anti-materialist, and I really do hate money (I wish I didn’t have to deal with it at all). Big business always makes me mad, and I would feel much better if I didn’t have to be a part of this system that I feel is greedy and corrupt. Why can’t we all just run barefoot through a field and sing songs around a campfire while sharing our s’mores? I really don’t understand this drive for money and power. Really, I’m not making it up. Anyway, my students know that I always want to stick it to the man if I feel that there is anything unfair or corrupt about something. I’m sure that people think that I’m exaggerating about my beliefs, but I’m not.
So, I realized today that I am actually part of this huge machine whose bottom line is the almighty dollar, and it broke my heart. The “standard practice” for perishable items is that I am to scan them as reclaim and then throw them away in the dumpster. This means that if something is damaged or out of date, it gets thrown away. Today, there were two FULL shopping carts of dairy items that were going out of date and could no longer be on the shelf. They included at least 12 packages of cookie dough, about 7 half gallons of chocolate milk, several quarts of buttermilk, half gallons of regular milk, at least 8 half gallons of orange and other juices, 7 or 8 half gallons of iced coffee, and tons and tons of yogurt, biscuits, and butter. I scanned every last item and put them in shopping carts so that I could take them out to the dumpster later in the day. They sat by the door and looked at me for about 2 hours until I could get to them. Every time I looked at them, I felt a lump in my stomach. Later, as I was walked them out to the dumpster, I started questioning what caused this whole “standard practice” to exist. I’m sure that the grocery store didn’t want anyone to sue them for having out of date product on the shelf. So it was protecting itself. I wonder though, why we have to have so much of it on the shelf. Managers are always upset if there are “holes” in the wall of product because it looks bad to customers. Are we, as Americans, contributing to this wastefulness because we want things to be aesthetically pleasing? So, it is basically corporations trying to protect themselves from losing money and our own shallowness that has bred this situation.
I couldn’t contain my emotion as I neared the dumpster. i was by myself, so I just let the tears fall. There I was throwing away hundreds of dollars worth of dairy items that someone could be eating and blubbering the whole time. God forbid that we give it away to someone who is hungry. We actually lock up the dumpster so that no one can get the food that we throw away. My heart broke for the wastefulness of our country. My heart also broke because I cannot afford to just buy whatever food I want, whenever I want it. I am on a tight budget, yet I just threw away a whole bunch of food that I could have used. Talk about sad. We can’t even give it to food banks because they won’t accept food that is close to expiration dates (We do give bread and bakery items to food banks, thank goodness).
How do you feel about this? Does it bother you? I wonder if anything can be done. I felt so shameful as I threw all of those items away. I wanted to post a sign on the dumpster that said, “Free food inside”. I’m pretty sure I would get in trouble. I also wanted to take pictures of the shopping carts, but I was worried that I would be crossing the line. I do need my job, and I’m learning that no matter what the job. we often have to make compromises of principle. I don’t know how long I can keep this up though. Don’t even get me started about the expiration date conspiracy! Hopefully the tears that I shed over the dairy will not be in vain. Perhaps the world will wake up and we can all live in peace, sharing with each other. until then, I will try to think of ways to counteract the world’s “standard practice”.