Archive: Obstacles To Keeping It Local

The following article first appeared in a blog titled Bonnie Blue Review: A West Feliciana Blog. The address had been, but this link is no longer active.

The blog author link is still active, however. The paragraph on that page describes the blog:

This is a blog for news and commentary about issues important to the people of West Feliciana Parish. E-mail me with your comments. Everything is considered publishable unless otherwise requested. Comments will be published at the discretion of the editor. Uncivil or potentially libelous material will not be published. Using your real name vastly increases the chances that your comment will be published. Opinions appearing on this blog do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editor.

Amazingly enough, the story centers on a container of sour cream purchased at a convenience store, which was later found to have been sampled by an unknown perpetrator using the classic Goldilocks M.O. Within the story, the author mentions scolding a store employee for laughing about this horrifying travesty of justice. I should be scolded as well, seemingly; I've have not stopped laughing at just about every line of this article in the five months since it appeared.

Shortly after publishing, this post disappeared from the internets along with the entirety of the West Feliciana blog. This was before it had a chance to win a Pulitzer Prize, and I think that's a crying shame. So I post it here for the enjoyment of the reader, a prime example of liberal bourgeois melodrama.

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Obstacles To Keeping It Local

Yesterday my wife went to the Little Store to get supplies for making casseroles for TWK Klein's family. She was in the kitchen just now preparing them, and said, "Who ate out of this sour cream?"

Nobody, of course. Nobody in this house eats sour cream, unless we're in a Mexican restaurant, or cooking. And we very rarely cook with sour cream. The kids would rather run from here to the Mississippi border than eat sour cream. No, somebody in the store opened up the sour cream container, took a big scoop out of it, then put the top back on. Here's what it looked like:

Can you imagine? Julie shut the cooking down. I took the sour cream back to the Little Store to exchange it. When I got there, I asked to speak to the manager. When I showed him the sour cream and told him we bought it like this, he laughed. Boy, was that not the right thing to do.

"You might think this is funny," I said, "but my wife is at home making food for people who are getting ready for a funeral. She had to stop everything, and I had to drive back here, because of something we bought at your store. Y'all are not on top of things."

The manager said he was sorry for offending me, but it's pretty crazy to see that somebody had done that. He then said, reasonably enough, that he can't be expected to open all the tops on sour cream to see if someone has scooped out of them. Agreed. This was unusual. The problem, I explained, is that this is part of a pattern at the Little Store. A few weeks back, a friend told me she had to take a chicken back, because it had spoiled. The other day, we had to return a brand new gallon of milk, one that was two weeks short of going out of date, because once we opened it, we realized it had spoiled. I told the manager that I worked in the Little Store as a teenager, and stacked the dairy case. You can't let milk sit out in the back of the store and get warm.

He asked me if the milk was Kleinpeter or Shur-fine (the store brand). Kleinpeter, I told him. He then explained that the Kleinpeter Dairy man stocks the shelves in the Little Store directly. So if the Kleinpeter man put up bad milk, it was on him.

"That may be," I said. "But the fact is, we bought bad milk at your store. We bought bad sour cream at your store. This is a pattern, and not just with us. If people keep having these experiences here, they're not going to shop at this store. We want to keep our money local, but this kind of thing makes it hard to do."

After that, the manager was apologetic and generous, and offered not only to replace the sour cream, but also to refund the cost. I thanked him and told him that wasn't necessary; I just needed the new sour cream so I could get home and the cooking could resume.

On the way out, I ran into a friend coming in to shop. "You going to take a scoop out of that sour cream and eat it?" he asked.

"How did you hear my conversation with the manager?" I said. He didn't know what I was talking about. His remark was just a coincidence. When I explained it, he said that his wife has these problems a fair amount with the Little Store. They recently had to return cheese that had been kept on the shelf past the sell-by date. He had a couple of other similar examples.

See, this is why people around here drive to Zachary to Leblanc's, or to Whole Foods or Calandro's in Baton Rouge. All grocery stores have to deal with this kind of thing. They're run by human beings, and sometimes, things go wrong. You can't expect perfection. Every store is going to screw up, even if they don't mean to. It's true that management can't open every tub of sour cream to see if some lunatic has scooped sour cream out of it. It's also true that if a milk distributor who stocks the shelves directly puts bad milk up, you can't blame the store's management. But when it keeps happening, you can't be faulting for wondering if there's a serious problem with quality control.

Because we are in Baton Rouge so often, and because we like their meat department, we do a lot of shopping at Whole Foods. We're in there at least twice a week. We also buy from the Little Store in St. Francisville, but the bulk of our grocery shopping is at Whole Foods. In the two years we've been back here, we've shopped way, way more at Whole Foods than at the Little Store. We've had problems with Whole Foods's merchandise exactly once: late last year, when some bread we bought from them turned out to be moldy. They exchanged it without fuss, and apologized (and didn't laugh at it). We've had to go back to the Little Store with spoiled food at least twice, even though we shop there far less often, and even though the Little Store is a vastly smaller operation than Whole Foods.

And, as the friend I ran into while leaving the store told me, "This kind of thing just doesn't happen at Leblanc's either."

Honest, I want to get excited about the new supermarket that the Little Store and Big Store owners are building on Highway 61, and the prospect that expanded choices will make life nicer for all of us -- and make it easier to keep our grocery dollars local. But it's difficult to overcome skepticism. If the problem is management, a shiny new building is not going to fix that.

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