I buy my family’s groceries mostly at large chain supermarkets like Giant and Safeway. When you go through eight gallons of milk each week, economy is essential. But the freezing cold aisles and excessive neon lighting ruins the shopping experience for me – I’m in and out as fast as possible.
Every month or so I splurge at the Whole Foods a few blocks up the street from the mega-markets. The one in my neighborhood has the most wonderful organic strawberries, lettuce medleys, and the yummy turkey meatballs my three kids pop in their mouths like bonbons. I often take my six-year-old because she loves sampling the exotic cheeses, cut kiwi and jicama that are in scarce supply in our household. The colorful, holistic atmosphere at Whole Foods (along with all the organic cotton baby clothes and endangered species stuffed animals) makes the place feel extremely welcoming and child-friendly.
But here’s the unpleasant, repeat reality: my fellow shoppers at Whole Foods look at my curly haired munchkin as if she were a rat carrying bubonic plague. Meeting their gaze, I offer my best “isn’t she cute” mama-smile. Without fail the well-coiffed, well-heeled patrons sniff, turn away, and scowl as if children should not be permitted to despoil the holy land of fresh figs, kumquats and Fat Bastard wine. (I have to note that Whole Foods employees always grin warmly at the smallest Whole Foodies.)
Now I understand there are places where kids can wreak havoc and legitimately should not venture. I do not take my six year old to the opera at the Kennedy Center, where she might well ruin the evening for everyone (including me). Same experience combining children with a costly restaurant meal, as babies do not go well with béchamel sauce. Or the first class section on an airplane, where I have never taken kids but I have witnessed richer-than-me parents doing. I once led my troop into Neiman Marcus for 30 seconds before realizing my mistake. No matter how beatifically behaved, children do not belong in certain venues. And of course it is understandable (although definitely not nice) to shoot an annoyed glance at a toddler wailing in the Amtrak Quiet Car or one with green boogers streaming out his nose. But I feel like shouting at the haughty Whole Foods patrons: this place is called Whole Foods because we’re buy life-sustaining food at here, not Limoges china or high-end stereo components!
Since when did a supermarket – any supermarket -- become taboo for kids? What does this snotty attitude say about how the wealthiest members of our society feel about the next generation? What gives Whole Foods shoppers the right to look down their noses at our future leaders?
I have settled on the only theory that makes sense to me. Folks with the bucks to shop at Whole Foods every week think a fat paycheck entitles them to live in a world impervious to the chaos, sudden movements, and grubby hands of children. Perhaps years of corner offices or Jimmy Choo shoes have somehow erased the fact that they were children with runny noses once too. Their wallets may be stuffed with credit cards and their stomachs full of organic grain-fed lamb, but in my view, these peacocks suffer from a spiritual starvation that deprives them of the nuttiness and unpredictability of a small child delighted by a mouth full of fresh raspberries.