I should have bought her apples for her. The young woman stood at the check out counter negotiating with the cashier. An older woman, the mother or an aunt, took the very tiny and fussy baby from the young woman and took a few steps away, swaying with the baby. The woman fidgeted with an envelope labelled "WIC" on the outside. She hadn't received her card yet and the cashier was having to write down everything on a form. He had already scanned the milk incorrectly and had to rescan it and then fix his mistake on paper. I could feel Michael growing impatient beside me. We were kind of in a hurry. The young woman tried her best to look bored. Finally the cashier rang up all of her items: a half gallon of milk, three apples and two pounds of grapes.
The cashier looked up at the young woman and said "This is going to put you a little bit over. Is that okay?" The young woman looked at her three items and then said "take the apples off." Michael moved passed me and said "We have to go. We're going to be late." I looked at him and then at the few items we had sitting on the conveyer belt and then I looked at the apples and then back at Michael. He looked at me more insistently and said again "We have to go." I fumbled, lost at what to do before giving in and saying "okay". It was only after we had made it outside to the parking lot when I said "I was going to buy that woman some apples." Michael paused and then asked "Why didn't you say something?" Then he asked if I wanted to go back in and buy the apples. I said "no" and we got in the car and headed off to our appointment.
That memory and hesitation has been sitting with me ever since. I just keep seeing that woman's groceries. Two pounds of grapes, three apples, and a half a gallon of milk. No Twinkies. No candy bars. Nothing remotely unhealthy. She had to give the apples back. I feel slightly sick with guilt. I should have stepped up and bought the damn apples. It was just that I wanted to buy the apples discreetly, with out a fuss. This was something I could have done if we had stayed in line, but instead I let myself be dragged away. Now I'm kicking myself for not stepping up and making a fuss. I was so concerned about not embarrassing the young woman or making the situation worse for her that I froze and did nothing.
I did the wrong thing.
But I am not the only one to fail this woman. This was a grocery store in a poor neighborhood. Michael and I had gone in there to grab three items that we had missed in our usual grocery trip. This grocery store seemed convenient because it was between our house and our haircut appointment, but when we got inside the store we already knew that we had a made a mistake in stopping. The produce section was less than half the size of your usual produce section and twice as expensive. I picked up a bundle of asparagus and balked at the $5 dollar price tag. That same sized bundle was no more than $2 at Trader Joe's. All of the produce at this grocery store was overpriced. Meanwhile there was a sale on Hawaiian Punch. A high fructose corn syrup laced 'fruit' drink was cheaper to buy than two apples.
This is what's called a 'Food Desert'.
People living in food deserts do not have access to affordable nutritious foods. As a result, they tend to have higher percentages of obesity and diabetes due to a diet of cheaper, less nutritional foods. Socio-economically, this means that poor people are more likely to be sick and as a result, may not be able to work. This requires them to rely on government assistance. Now we've got an endless loop going. It may be very inexpensive to eat fast food and the less nutritional things from the grocery store, but long term, it becomes very expensive for ALL of us. I don't know what the fix for this problem might be, but I do know I could have helped by buying some apples.
I don't tell you this because I want to hear you reassure me that I am a good person. I tell you this to keep myself accountable, as a reminder that I am capable of being better. Because I am capable of being better.