The Dog Food/Jewish Aisle of My Local Grocery
Anti-Semitic micro-aggressions, and how it feels to say something.
A few weeks ago, my local QFC grocery store moved a lot of things around, on orders from Corporate. Mostly the changes make sense: the cereal and coffee share an aisle now; the chips are near the crackers.
But the Jewish specialty items? Oh they moved those to the front of the store, to the dog food section.
This is the third time I’ve been in QFC since the move. I’ve complained to my husband about it. I’ve tweeted about it:
I get it, local #QFC grocery store: corporate made you do weird shit this week, like combining the baking aisle with the soup aisle. But moving the #Jewish specialty items next to the dog food? Wtf. #jewishinamerica #microaggression #Antisemitism ?
But I haven’t complained to the store about it. Not yet.
I’m trying to give everyone the benefit of the doubt: I’m lucky they even carry Jewish specialty items at all. They probably don’t even realize how it looks.
But today, I can’t handle it anymore.
Because today, I’m in QFC specifically to buy candles for our menorah.
Hannukah starts at sundown tomorrow.
I take some deep breaths as I walk into the store, waving sorry to a driver as I realize I’m so deep in my own head, that I forgot to use the crosswalk.
I browse the Christmas candy section for a while, knowing none of it will be vegan, but looking anyway, to put off the feelings I know are coming.
I try to enjoy that this is a solo grocery store trip, a treat in itself (you know what I’m talking about, parents!)
Finally, I walk to the dog food/Jewish section.
The shelves are on the wrong side of the registers, near the Lotto scratch-off machine: Half is dog food; Half is matzo and Yahrzeit candles and grape juice.
I know there’s dog food in another aisle too; my kid loves to look at the faces of the cute dogs on the packages; why is this dog food out here, banished from the store proper? This is where they keep (I swear) the Old Yeller brand dog food. Didn’t they shoot Old Yeller because he had rabies? Why would you name a dog food after that? Ironic dog food marketing? It was really funny to me when I discovered it, but today, I can’t even look.
The anti-Semitic trauma of my youth is very present with me. Deep breaths. In my mind’s eye, I see some white supremacist with his boots up on a big desk, telling all the stores to put that Jew crap over with the rabid dog food, laughing to himself: Muahahahaha!
I picture customers, my neighbors, seeing it and snickering too.
I turn back around and go to the baking aisle.
We have two menorahs:
One old, beautiful brass one my husband gave me, and an adorable wooden one my father-in-law made for my daughter, with ABC blocks spelling her name. Her menorah fits birthday candles. Usually, we light both menorahs, so I was planning to buy both candle sizes today.
I grab a pack of birthday candles and go toward the register.
Which checkout lane? That cashier’s a woman of color; maybe she’ll understand. But that white guy’s line is available now; it will look weird if I don’t go to him. Why aren’t any of the regular cashiers here, the ones who would recognize me and know I don’t usually complain?
I get in the white guy’s line, give the bagger my cloth bag, type in my Advantage Card number, carefully, taking deep breaths. The dog food/Jewish section is just to my left. When I’m all done paying, I motion toward it, and I try my best, to be charming, but assertive:
“Umm, I know things have moved around a lot recently, and I know it’s probably not an in-store decision. But the Jewish specialty items are stocked with the dog food now, and it doesn’t feel right. It feels like… someone made that decision from a bad place.”
My hands and voice are starting to shake. There’s that familiar feeling behind my eyes and nose, impending tears. Like when a cop pulls you over. Like when you’re a little kid and a teacher scolds you.
“Yeah, things moved around a lot recently,” he says, trying to placate me. “Now make sure to keep your receipt, because there’s a coupon on there.”
Does he really think we’re done here?
In my wavering voice, I press on:
“Um, is there someone else I can speak to, a manager or something, who will do more than just tell me things have moved around?”
Why is this so hard? Why do I feel so alone? Why am I afraid the other customers will hear me and think I’m overreacting? That they’ll add “overreacting complainer” to their conspiracy theory list of things they believe about Jews.
The bagger averts his eyes. The cashier says he can call a manager to the customer service counter for me. I thank them both.
Waiting at the customer service counter…
I draw a circle around the coupon on my receipt. $7 off a $70 purchase. That is a pretty good coupon.
A manager arrives, and I say the same thing as before, except this time I begin with,
“I’d like to, I guess, file a complaint, or something.”
This guy listens. It’s his job to listen. He’s much, much better at placating. Because here I am, suddenly apologizing to him:
“I’m sorry, it’s just hard to say something,” I tell him, because I feel I have to apologize, because I’m full-on ugly-crying now.
There are customers behind me; I know they’re listening; they’re watching me cry. I wish they’d say something, say, “Yeah, that’s pretty messed up.” That’s what I would say. I think that’s what I would say.
The manager responds:
“I assure you this isn’t anyone’s sick joke, but I understand why it looks that way. The truth is these items were overlooked in the new store plan; there was no place planned for them. We don’t know where they’re going to go yet, but this isn’t their permanent home. We just needed somewhere to put them. But I see your point. You’re right. And they won’t be here much longer.”
He said all the right things. He seemed sincere. It’s more than I could hope for. And yet, I was still sobbing as I thanked him and left the store.
I got in my car and sobbed louder. Blew my nose. Screamed. Took deep breaths.
Why is it so hard to speak truth to power?
Why do I even view these men at the grocery store as having power over me?
Do you know this feeling? And do you keep speaking up when you feel it?
Happy Hanukkah, everyone!
Hey, I’ve got nothing against dogs. Here’s a love letter to my favorite one: