How about them apples?

July 13, 2023   ·   0 Comments

By Anthony Carnovale

Nanna: I’m not going to say she was ‘cheap’ (she believed in ghosts and didn’t like being insulted). Let’s just say that she was careful, that she understood the value of a dollar. She wore dresses that were too old, shoes that were too small. She grew most of her own vegetables and could turn leftovers into a fine dining experience (fried leftover pasta with old bread was, and still is, a personal favourite). She bought the cheapest cuts of meats; the fruits and vegetables she couldn’t pick from the garden, she picked from the discount racks. She growled at me when I left too much red pepper around the stem; she cursed at me if there was too much watermelon left on the rind. 

Her purse was decorative more than it was functional (it was always empty). Still, that purse never left her side, man. And I mean NEVER. She was frugal, tough — she fought hard to protect the things that mattered most to her. She was not a woman to be messed with, especially when it came to money, especially when it came to her family.

My grandparents came to Canada in 1954. My dad told me stories about travelling aboard the Saturnia. 

He remembered my grandmother being bedridden for the entire journey. Once they arrived in Halifax, an immigration official asked to inspect their luggage; he found capicola and a brick of cheese. 

He reached for the contraband but was stopped by my grandmother, still weak and weary from the trip. She grabbed the food from the official, stormed out of the immigration shed and threw the capicola and cheese into the Atlantic Ocean. “If my family can’t eat my food, nobody is going to eat my food.” On the train to Toronto, they were given pieces of white bread that stuck to the roofs of their mouths. 

I’ve been thinking about my grandmother a lot these past few months. I think about her as I saunter up and down the aisles of a grocery store and stand in front of a fifteen-dollar bag of flour, a twenty-five-dollar four-pack of chicken breasts, a seven-dollar bag of lettuce, a three-dollar cucumber. What would she say about the price of apples, bananas, bread, olives, pasta? What would she throw at the TV after hearing reports about the price of bread being fixed, that grocers are raking in record profits while inflation is out of control and too many people are at a tipping point? How would she deal with being treated like a criminal as another store employee asks to see her receipt before she leaves the store (trust me, it wouldn’t be pretty)?

I used to like shopping for groceries. Now, every time I walk into a grocery store, I can’t help but be reminded of all the things that are making life so difficult for so many people: food prices, climate change, waste. I’m paying more for a piece of fruit that tastes less and less like what it should. I’m paying twenty percent more for thirty percent less of a packaged product. The other day, I stood and stared at a sixteen-dollar bottle of olive oil for, like, three minutes. 

And what are grocers complaining about the most? Customer behaviour. Theft. Are we supposed to feel sorry for them? Stay quiet after coming home with another sour bag of milk? Another moldy quart of blueberries or figs? Should I feel sorry for the owner of a local grocery store whose house is under constant renovation and a new high-end vehicle sits pretty in the driveway (He’s entitled to his toys; I’m entitled to my opinion: it’s not a good look). 

And they want to talk about theft? Angry customers? I’d like to talk about the employees that have been replaced (for my convenience?) by all of these self-check-out stations. The same stations where most thefts are happening. 

You know, those stations where employees stand around like prison guards keeping an eye on potentially criminal behaviour (used to be a grocer would help you find the best product at the best price. Now, they just want to keep you from stealing it). 

Why don’t they talk about the criminal amounts of food they put to waste, the food that gets tossed in the bins out back, while the Orangeville Food Bank struggles to meet demand? I mean, why feed people when you can fill bins and coffers, right? 

Something has to give. And if it doesn’t, I think more and more people are just going to take. I’m not sure why it’s okay for some, but not okay for others. 

Actually, check that: I do understand. Because we live in a country where the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing at record speed, where, as reported by Stats Canada, the richest twenty per cent of households control sixty-eight per cent of the net worth in this country while the poorest account for less than three. And there doesn’t seem to be any interest in shifting that narrative. 

(I can’t stop thinking about the old man I saw at the Fortino’s I shop at. He wasn’t allowed to leave the store until the security guard could verify that he had paid for each item in his cart while the owners of the store watched from a few feet away. The old man looked confused, forlorn). 

(I can stop thinking about the man that sits outside that same store, begging for food, for change).

Something has to change; someone has to give. 

Until that happens, what other recourse is there? I know my grandmother wouldn’t put up with it. I mean, she wouldn’t steal, but she’d let people know what she was thinking. And after she was done with them? They’d feel bruised, beaten. Just like those apples selling for 4.99 a pound.

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