One of my great joys since a very young age has been the trip to the supermarket. And though I'm no longer seated in the shopping cart (I try but get reprimanded by the manager), it's still a rite that satisfies a primitive human urge for the procurement of sustenance. Few comforts compare to picking out the week's vittles and returning home, knowing that come hell or high-water, there will be Apple Jacks.
Just don't look for them at Old World Food Market, the gourmet grocery on Route 59. There, you'll find an array of natural foods framed in buttery-yellow wooden decor. It's a mirror universe to the over-processed chemical farms on which my generation was raised. You've entered a place where even the candy touts health benefits.
This would be an excellent time to get suspicious. At one point or another, it's been claimed that Chesterfields were good for your lungs, Guinness for your muscles and Tootsie Rolls for athletic energy. Today, of course, we know that it's actually Guinness which is good for your lungs, since a couple of pints will have you belting Pogues songs in the back of the pub with strangers. We still don't know what Tootsie Rolls are. Some sort of toffee, is my guess, but you'd have to ask an elderly person (and that always ends badly).
As America enters a game of chicken with our obese reflections, organic foods become the escape hatch to health for many (though not the bulk of the population). It's sort of like how reality TV broke the lowest common denominator and expelled an audience that could support stellar cable drama.
We're undergoing a food renaissance in this country. You can, at long last, visit stores committed entirely to brands that you ignored for years in the health section at Stop & Shop. What's the lesson? Apparently that the flesh is weak in the face of Wonder Bread. Successful branding has made grocery shopping into a choice between the museum and the amusement park—even though these are often the same foods and even the same suppliers.
Old World looks like someone constructed an accurate portrait of what those old trips to the supermarket with Ma looked like—everything is comfortable, delicious and life-giving. I assume that the addition of a boat by the seafood section is just Jungian dream-imagery for a deep-seated subconscious desire (in this case, probably for seafood).
But this is good news for me. Though my beloved bowl of Apple Jacks might remain unpoured in favor of imported European cereals like Skjolnorg or Flax-in-a-Box, it's a small price to pay for a place that treats food like a religion. If we must have false idols, let them arrive in an array of over three hundred kinds of cheeses, and anyway, there's transubstantiation in the conversion of milk to brie.
Recently the non-mayonnaise sandwich spread Miracle Whip drew some well-aimed stones for its attempt to re-brand itself as an ultra-hip and defiant declaration of life lived loudly, probably on a rooftop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. While that's a bold stance for something that can't define itself any more precisely than "sandwich spread," attitude alone can't carry the day. There's a lot of stupid behavior among my generation, especially its uniformed hipsters, but they can detect a narc trying to fit in no problem. They might drink terrible beer and grow untrimmed beards as one beast with a thousand pasty, underdeveloped arms. But no, they will never mistake imitation mayo as a lifestyle choice.
Yet, that's exactly the appeal of Old World, Whole Foods and all their natural food ilk. Simply by celebrating their product, they've got me and everyone else who loves to visit there hooked on the idea that life is better by shopping there.
But they're not trying to convince anyone. They know what they have, and their employees seem genuinely in awe of their own spread. You're among fellow fans there. Now that record stores are all but gone, we have lost the all-knowing clerk who will follow your tastes down five generations of band influencing band. It seems that grocery stores have picked up the ball and run with it.
You will, however, still find me trawling the Stop & Shop for Apple Jacks on Saturday morning.