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4 Potentially Awkward Health Food Store Moments

Peer pressure is back. This is the age of “natural” living, where we fight genetically modified food, buy organic, shop local, and follow the “green” rule: treat the planet the way you would like to be treated. Gone are the days where you can shop at Stater Bros., WinCo, or WalMart, with a clear conscience. Sooner or later you’re going to end up pressured to purchase some of your food from a “natural” foods store or a farmer’s market, even if it’s just for a bit of plausible parlor talk (e.g.–“I go to Gluten Bob’s Farm Seed Hemp Market when I’m not growing my own, what about you?”)

You certainly can’t answer “Ralph’s” or “Vons,”  and so you end up at one of many local health food-grocery store hybrids, and the first few experiences are likely to be awkward. Here are a few I’ve experienced first hand, along with some strategies I use to cope with the humiliation.

1. Getting caught without reusable bags.

Many stores refuse to provide plastic or paper bags, or they’ll make you pay for them. So unless you want to cart your healthy booty around in your arms, you need to bring your own storage. Even if they provide bags free of charge, you end up feeling like a second class citizen when everyone else in line whips out their canvas grocery sacks.

Handle it:

I’ve learned to bring a backpack, so now I just tell them to throw it all in the pack. If the clerk is a true naturophile, they’ll look at you like you just adopted a puppy. Another strategy is to stop using the mini plastic bags to package your produce. Just dump all the tomatoes, apples, cucumbers, whatever on the conveyor belt, and then you can watch them bag it into the plastics with a clear conscience. If you’re asked about your lack of reusable bags, just nod knowingly at the fruit and veggies sprawled all over the conveyor belt, and they’ll be begging to bag your goods in plastic. I don’t purposely make a mess; like-items go in neat little piles. But if someone in line wants to give me any lip, I’m ready to let them know how much plastic I saved by avoiding the individual baggies.

2. Approaching the free sample guy/girl.

When I was a kid, I loved the free-sample stands and Costco. You knew what you were getting, and you knew where to find it in the store. It’s not really the same at the natural food stores. You’re not really sure what they’re representing, you sure as heck don’t know what to do with whatever it is, and you definitely don’t want to get into a discussion exposing your incompetence in natural living.

Am I supposed to eat it, bathe with it, rub it in my armpits, or melt it down and use it to scrub the dirty kitchen?

All of the above?! That is pretty dang cool.

Handle it:

Pick a different aisle. It may look like a snack food, but it’s most likely for naturally regulating female hormones. If you really like free stuff that much to risk it, it’s on you my friend.

3. The vitamin and supplement aisle

This applies particularly to gentleman who have been sent with a list and orders to procure a particular supplement. Sometimes it’s best not to ask what it is, but you will inevitably have to inquire after its location, and depending on the supplement, the encounter will necessarily be awkward. Many guys will outright refuse to purchase feminine items with which they are familiar. The confusing world of vitamins conceals the objective of the mission, and many guys have unwittingly agreed to shop for items outside their comfort zone.

Handle it:

Ask what’s on the list before you agree to the mission. If you can’t handle it, refuse to accept. In my own experience, I learned to request a specific location including aisle, shelf, and relative distance from the center. This helped me avoid seeking assistance from the vitamin lady.

4. Shopping with a health food store veteran.

Conventional wisdom says it’s better to navigate unfamiliar territory with a guide, but this does not necessarily apply at a health food store. At some point, your guide will engage in conversation with a store employee on some jargon-laced topic about GMO’s, the evils of Monsanto, certified organic, cleanses, toxins and the like. They’ll talk like it’s common news of the day, and you shift side to side just praying the employee doesn’t ask your opinion on which organic bakery does the best gluten-free cookie.

Yeah, if you go by yourself the entire experience will be one awkward spectacle, but it’s better than getting stuck in an advanced level health food discourse where you clearly don’t belong. The best-case scenario is pity, and worst case is downright disdain for your hormone-laced hide.

Handle it:

The best thing to do is take your lumps and learn a few things about “natural foods” and the exclusive language that goes along with it. Terminology is a gatekeeper, and the quicker you learn the lingo, the less awkward each experience will be. If you have no time or you’re just not that interested, say something about how you wish they had a store like this closer to where you live, and how it’s so hard to find good food nearby. Use the phrase “food desert,” and watch them suck in a quick sympathy breath.

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