Monday, November 12, 2012

All Lost in the Supermarket

Days after last week's election, I found myself wandering in Whole Foods feeling like some poor lost soul in Willy Wonka's version of the Garden of Eden, not unlike a bewildered gnome in the Land of Plenty. 

Food stuffs, aisle after aisle of them, were neatly arranged on shelves deep and broad.  The staff, a combination of art history majors and organic gardeners who run their own honey-producing beehives off their Somerville roofs and Ethiopian immigrants who marvel each day at this place called America, are responsive to any box of organic pasta that might be askew but are daunting in the professionalism which they bring to what they care for. 

They are the Guardians to the Platonic Idea we called Food.  Whole Foods after all is a supermarket with a governing philosophy.  

No doubt I was searching for something expensive, but the wide aisles and the sheer amount of stuff around me, and the expense of it, got me thinking -- who is this proverbial angry white male, the voter who chose Scott Brown over Elizabeth Warren, the voter who chose Mitt Romney over Barack Obama, and what the hell does he want?

For my answer, I turned to the cheese aisle.  What would he make of this, I wondered?

What would he make of a hundred different choices of cheese from around the world, all sitting on a refrigerated shelf, just waiting to be chosen?  And what would he make of the people stooping deliberately and dramatically over this array, considering their cheeses like Sherlock Holmes drawing on his pipe, waiting for the insight to arrive through the blue haze of smoke? 

This angry man, would he find this experience an enlightening expansion of his horizons?  Or would he find it ridiculous, frightening, or even threatening -- an example of a world that he neither recognizes nor welcomes?

We have split into two nations in some important ways.  Who walks into a Whole Foods? In Cambridge, we know the type.  We're in the cheese aisle. 

But who doesn't walk into a Whole Foods? Him we don't know, because he's not in the cheese aisle.  When confronted with such opulence, is he coaxed to vent a resentment at an America he's been told is filled with "takers", as Mitt Romney said.  The ultimate private capital billionaire reached out to this voter with a message that was narrow, angry, divisive, hyperbolic.  The GOP continues to maw its cud, as well they should. 

But we dismiss his anger at our own peril.  Like this little gnome trying to decide between a Gorgonzola and a St. Andre, we'd be fools not to see what's around us too.