by Al Drinkle
We called it the “stinky store”, my sister and I. It was an early incarnation of a natural food store and I now recognize that our mother was way ahead of her time by purchasing the vast majority of our groceries there 30 years ago. I don’t remember them offering much produce, but in the summer she would buy fruits and vegetables directly from farmers which must have also been unusual for Calgarians in the 1980s. The pongy odors probably emanated from the bulk grains, or maybe from the staff themselves. They all seemed happy in a distant, vacant sort of way that struck me as conspicuous even as a child.
We lived in a suburb in the southeast and it seemed to take forever to get to the stinky store. In actuality, it probably ate up half a day - an eternity for a kid, especially when the weather was nice. My sister and I would follow our mother up and down the aisles, listlessly inhaling the musty aromas. We’d examine the labels on the few products that weren’t sold in bulk - crackers and breakfast cereals, for example - and long for the titillation offered by the packaging on comparable foods that our friends’ mothers would buy for them. In other words, foods “enhanced” by sugars and oils that our own mother tried to protect us from. At that time, purveyors of industrially-manufactured products were invariably more adept at marketing than their counterparts in the burgeoning natural foods industry.
One time out of sheer boredom, my sister lifted the latch on a bulk container of millet or sorghum or something, precipitating an interminable shower of grains to drop to the ground. They bounced off the tile floor like a legion of grasshoppers leaping in the sun and I just stared, elated and impressed with my younger sibling. As I got older (but not old enough to avoid the shopping trips altogether), I would be asked to fill plastic containers with natural peanut butter. While doing so, I thought about the Skippy corn syrup and soybean oil slurry that my father kept around the house and wondered why it was kept out of my reach.
Older still, I’m grateful that I had a mother who was so concerned about our health. It must have been a thankless task, driving whinging children across town in order to obtain nutritional ingredients for a family that fatuously longed for the industrial bullshit that their peers routinely ate. In retrospect, those mind-numbing ventures probably planted two ideological seeds in me. First, I came to recognize that the virtues of authentic food are superior to the banal immediacy of artificiality. Second, the mutual benefit of supporting independent specialists became apparent, if not blatant, to me. In regards to the extent that these experiences formed my opinion of wine, I can only speculate.
For my mother’s devotion to the Sisyphean plight of fostering proactive values through food, I consider myself lucky. As a grown man, it’s an honour to be part of a small, independent operation that sources authentic and natural products directly from those who farm them. I also make weekly grocery trips to my own stinky store (the employees are aromatically neutral), only a few blocks from the one I was dragged to as a child.