Toward a Theology of Supermarkets

February 13, 2005 | 24 comments
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If you are looking for a morally, philosophically, and theologically fascinating place, I can think of few locations in contemporary life that can compare to the supermarket. Indeed, it seems to me that a proper understanding of the supermarket is one the primary intellectual tasks of the modern world and of our generation of Mormonism.

There are essentially two competing stories that we can tell about supermarkets. On one side is what I call the “Myth of Freedom.” On this view, the supermarket is a wild tribute to the power of human freedom. The supermarket offers you a wonderful variety of different choices — eight different kinds of shampoo, milk of every conceivable fat level, seven kinds of squash, dozens of varieties of fruit, beef, pork, fish, and poultry in every possible permutation — and gives them to you cheap. Delicacies previously available only to the super rich — fine cheeses and fruit out of season — are now with the easy grasp of the middle class. More importantly, the staples available in a supermarket are cheaper relative to total income. In other words, because of the supermarket, the poor spend a smaller portion of their income on food than at any time in the past. All this choice and prosperity is the creation of freedom. There is no master-mind genius who makes the supermarket happen, no authority who makes the trains run on time. Rather, the supermarket is possible precisely because free political institutions and the free markets that follow in their wake have push such would-be Platonic guardians into the dust bin of history.

The alternative story about the supermarket is what I call “The Myth of the Satanic Supermarket.” On this view, the supermarket is the instantiation of all that is wrong and evil in modern society. First, there is the soulessness of shopping in the supermarket. Gone are the shops and stalls of a more lively and authentic market of “real people” and community. In its place is a mass-and anonymous assembly line of shelves and automated tellers. The variety of the supermarket shelves is an illusion. Rather than offering a choice for every conceivable taste, the supermarket offers only the mass-produced “choices” of big corporations and the moral pygmies who rise to their top. The economic egalitarianism of the supermarket is also an illusion. The cheap food is soaked in poisonous chemicals and the only reason it is so cheap is because the industrialized forces of agribusiness have raped the environment to produce it. Nor is the environment the only victim of the supermarket. The poor of developing countries must suffer from the ruthless exploitation of multi-nationals so the fattened masses of the rich can enjoy marginally cheaper vegetables. Nature, community, and the poor all lie prostrated so that a mindless suburban consumer can make his soul-deadening “choice” between Frosted Flakes and Lucky Charms.

Both of these stories are overdrawn, and to a large extent their truth rests on matters of fact, complex questions about the production of commodities and the effect of that production on the world. Don’t get me wrong. I have definite opinions about this subject, and by and large I prefer the “Myth of Freedom” to the “Myth of the Satanic Supermarket.” I do, however, think that the massive prosperity represented by the supermarket — complete with its distributional complexities; there are no supermarkets in the East Congo — represents one of the central moral phenomena of our time, perhaps the central phenomena. We cannot make sense of the moral universe in the modern world without making sense of the supermarket.

The scriptures have a great deal to say about wealth. The Book of Mormon, it seems to me, is deeply ambivalent about prosperity. On one hand, it seems to teach that righteousness leads to peace and freedom which in turn lead to prosperity. Wealth, however, tends to undermine righteousness and so on. Nibley and others have read this as being a simple condemnation of the wealthy. This, I think, is too easy. First, the Book of Mormon does not seem to teach that those who are wealthy are wealthy at the expense of the poor. Rather, prosperity is both a blessing and a danger, and there is a certain fatalism to the whole cycle.

The New Testament is, I think, much less ambiguous about wealth and the wealthy. Generally speaking, the Gospels present the rich as wicked because they are rich. It is important to realize, however, that by and large markets are a relatively late arrival in human history. It is not that people haven’t been swapping and trading since the dawn of time. (No doubt Cain and Abel made deals before Cain turned to violence.) Rather, the idea that material production should be ordered by private contracts and property rights conceived of as aspects of personal autonomy rather than hierarchical rights and duties is a recent creation. Wealth in the ancient world was largely a product of social status and the control such status gave over the means of violent expropriation. Read in economic context, the New Testament’s denunciations of wealth become more ambiguous.

The Old Testament presents perhaps the most interesting case. By and large, the Old Testament does not deal in the concept of an afterlife. Salvation does not consist of eternal life but rather in the continuation of one’s posterity and in one’s material prosperity. God blesses Abraham and Job by giving them lots of cattle and lots of children. Israel’s promise is a land of milk and honey, a land of abundance. At the same time, the prophets in the Old Testament offer many of the same blanket denunciations of wealth that one finds in the New Testament.

All of which leaves us with the great, unanswered question, “What think ye of the supermarket?”

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24 Responses to Toward a Theology of Supermarkets

  1. Russell Arben Fox on February 13, 2005 at 9:38 pm

    “What think ye of the supermarket?”

    Depends on if they sell sugar beets.

  2. Stephen M (ethesis) on February 13, 2005 at 10:01 pm

    Wealth in the ancient world was largely a product of social status and the control such status gave over the means of violent expropriation.

    What has always fascinated me is the discovery of how much that is still true in our world and in our time. It is something they should teach kids in B-school as important for survivial. You can never act more than two layers outside of your level without dire peril. A good example is the poor analyst who did the Nike Shoes for Bosnia program — it got him fired within a year — right after he was recognized as the best analyst at his level at Nike.

    But he put together a vice president level project and it was a complete mistake in terms of keeping his job. From the moment he thought of it, ignored a warning from a friend and decided that covering bloody feet with shoes was more important than feeding his family, he was doomed. At least at Nike.

  3. Wilfried on February 13, 2005 at 10:19 pm

    A fundamental question, Nate, and a topic seemingly absent from our lessons in Church, as well as conference talks. There are several aspects to it, but one strikes me as crucial: “We cannot make sense of the moral universe in the modern world without making sense of the supermarket.” A certain social agenda in the Catholic Church, especially by its more leftist Third-World-Movement, has been trying intensely to deal with this question these past decades. Their Social Gospel focus has mainly been dealing with the relation between rich and poor nations. In that context wealth becomes indeed a global moral question. But after watching their actions and programs for years, I have the impression they lack a vital leverage for change. Poverty remains and the divide has become greater. Is our Church, with its still very small number on a world scale, able to do more? It is interesting to notice that your post is just next to Gordon’s The purpose of the Church, and its issue with the transformation of human society.

  4. Brett McKay on February 13, 2005 at 10:34 pm

    I myself am split between the two theories that Nate propoes. While I am amazed at how the free market system has brought to our hands so many goods to choose from at low prices, I often cringe at the socital tradeoffs I make when I purchace from huge conglomerate supermarkets, such as Wal-Mart. There are times I want to boycott Wal-Mart and shop at the neighborhood market, but Wal-Mart has taken over those as well! I also have a hard time putting my ideals above my pocketbook when I’m living on a watier’s budget.

    I often wonder what Adam Smith would think of our free enterprise system today. I remember vaguely from one of his esays that he denounced monopolies as detriments to the free market system. I agree. I love capitalism, but I also believe that at times it has to be reigned in on occasionaly to save it from destroying itself and hurting society. What are your thoughts?

  5. annegb on February 13, 2005 at 10:34 pm

    Mine is not to wonder why, mine is to shop and enjoy and thank God I live in a country where I can buy double ply Charmin by the case and Puffs plus, the cadillac of tissue. I often thank Him while I am in the store for that store.

    I’m not kidding, guys, I’m not being facetious. I’m very glad to live in America (no offense to any of you who don’t, I would send you a supermarket if I could), and have good stores and good stuff in the stores. I thank Him a lot.

    I don’t question the societal or religious implications or the legalities of who gets to go in the handicapped lane or the express. I just love having good stores.

  6. Matt Evans on February 13, 2005 at 11:53 pm

    If it were only so easy as getting rid of modern supermarkets to return the developing world to the halcyon, pre-globalization golden days when none were fat, none had teeth, and 1 in 4 lived to adulthood. : )

  7. Jeremy on February 14, 2005 at 1:05 am

    We live out the dichotomy Nate describes. Among the supermarkets in our neighborhood, there are two we frequent. One is Aldi’s, a franchise imported from Europe that functions on the premises that 1) regular supermarkets offer tens of thousands of items (a dozen different brands of shampoo, multiple varieties of commodities as banal as rice and flour, etc.), even though they make most of their money off of a couple thousand items; and 2) the extra overhead costs associated with huge variety inevitably bleed into the price of the couple thousand items that sell in the largest quantities; so 3) why not have a store of just staples, mostly sold under store brands, that can be kept in stock for a fraction of the overhead? Choice is nil — if you need a can of corn, you’re stuck with the one brand. On the other hand, to put it in perspective, it’s a can of corn. Once you get past a certain lower threshhold of quality control, the idea of “choice” between brands of canned corn is really a sort of bogus perception of choice, based more on one’s reaction to marketing than on some real difference in quality. (Unless there are some recent innovation in canned-corn technology that I missed in the news.) The store runs very efficiently. It’s small, about the size of a good-sized shoe store, and, though always very clean and well-lit, with tiled floor and paneled ceiling (not like a cement-floored bare-beamed wearhouse or overstock store), “presentation” is limited to neatly-stacked cases on pallets, Bishop’s storehouse style. The parking lot is small, and there’s a $.25 deposit on shopping carts (so a dude doesn’t have to go out and collect them). They charge $.10 for shopping bags, too, so you either bring your own or buy theirs; the ones they give you, though, are very sturdy and have handles, so you can reuse them a good dozen times or so. Because it’s in a shopping center in a decent (but not upscale) part of town, and it’s clean and professional looking, and, perhaps a little, because it has a certain sleek cachet of being a European import, Aldi’s attracts shoppers from widely varying socioeconomic strata; there doesn’t seem to be a stigma associated with shopping there.

    Aldi’s had been a lifesaver for us while I’ve been in grad school; my wife comes home with tons of food for a ludicrously small amount of money, and, except for a few items that haven’t appealed to us or our kids, the brands available there have proven to be of perfectly adequate quality.

    Store number two, which we also frequent fairly regularly, stands at the absolute opposite extreme. It’s the flagship store for the Wegman’s chain. This store has such an incredible variety, it’s in all seriousness one of the top tourist destinations in this area. It’s utterly ginormous, for one thing, but not cavernous: the produce, deli, and bakery sections have expensive Italian tile on the floor, and there are elaborate displays dividing up the space, and there always seems to be a Scarlatti sonata or a Vivaldi concerto playing over the speakers. There’s a seafood counter AND a deli AND a kosher deli AND a cheese counter AND another cheese counter… Exotic fruits and obscure bread varieties dont’s just sit there in a case, they tumble out of wicker baskets. There’s an entire section devoted only to mushrooms, including a plexiglass lockbox containing $400/lb truffles. There are at least half a dozen aisles devoted to different ethnic foods. It’s not a specialty or gourmet store — it has Cocoa Puffs and Campbell’s soup and generic toilet paper and a video store and a camera bar, etc., too, but it also has just about anything in the world you could hope to purchase to eat.
    We go there, too, for crusty bread and cheese (counter 1) or cheese (counter 2) or funky Goya sodas or basmati rice–and often for regular stuff as well. It’s in a very upscale part of town, and there’s a lot more racial and socioeconomic diversity among the employees than among the shoppers, so the bleeding-heart liberal populist in me doesn’t feel nearly as self-righteously gratified shopping there as I do mingling with the melting pot at Aldi’s (although, I shoud point out, Wegman’s consistently gets very high marks for its treatment of its employees).

    On the other hand, the tasteful design and smooth workings of the store eliminate the commerce-zombie feeling I get when I go in Wal-Mart–which, I’l admit, is often. where but Wal-Mart could a starving student like me go, after his toddler shorts out the VCR by shoving a handful of pennies through the slot, and get a replacement for $30? And where but Wal-Mart could that same grad student go, 6 weeks later, when his toddler does the exact same thing again?

    So, I guess my point is that we get it both ways. By shopping at both Aldi’s and Wegman’s, we can rest assured that we will remain utterly immune to the pride cycle of the Book of Mormon.

    (Of course, since I’m going to be a college professor in the humanities, I will remain utterly immune to wealth as well…)

  8. Steve on February 14, 2005 at 2:04 am

    As if you need teeth to be happy. . . I find it difficult to read about Babylon and secret combinations in the last days without thinking of globalization. “All nations have drunk of her abominations. . .” Your question, Nate, taps into our utter cluelessness on the nature of our own culture. While we, as American Mormons, imagine our culture as epitomized by apple pie, democratic ideals and country music, to our enemies who “hate freedom,” the West (generally) and America (particularly) are embodied in globalization, pornography, MTV, unseemly luxury and unenlightened foreign policy. There’s only one problem with Western culture: it’s not really a culture. The rubber-stamp soceity that’s filling the earth is symbolized so well by our wonderful supermarket wasteland. The increase in choices has led to no increase in freedom as the more choices fill the lives of Westerners the more they find themselves with less time for God and family and less everything for the poor. As product diversity is ever increasing and shows no signs of slowing down, we forget that God gave us an earth with near infinite variety of life and landscape with more than enough to live on. (This reminds me of a headline from the satirical newspaper The Onion 21 October 1998: “Consumer-Product Diversity Now Exceeds Biodiversity.”) So why the supermarket? Why meat, vegetables, fruits and grains each prepackaged fourteen different ways? Honestly, because God didn’t do a good enough job and we NEEDED corn syrup and food dyes. Yes, thank God for your artificial foodstuffs and the facilitation of a lazy lifestyle that your beloved supermarket provides and maybe someday he’ll answer, “Why are you thanking me? I didn’t make that.” Nate, you point to Abraham’s wealth and say “Salvation does not consist of eternal life but rather in the continuation of one’s posterity and in one’s material prosperity.” (In the Old Testament at least) Yeah, totally! “Thou shalt not leave my soul in hell,” read: “Thou shalt not let me be poor.” You’ve misunderstood that though God does promise your supposed “salvation” (esp. in the OT), God has not laid prosperity down as an object for us lowly mortals to strive and live for. I don’t see that in every Christian’s favorite rich man, Abraham. Surely somebody here must have read Nibley’s repetition of Talmudic lore on Abraham’s legendary prosperity in “Approaching Zion.” This is what makes it “OK” for Abraham to be rich. God has the power to give and to take wealth and he surely does it not to put us in luxury, but to allow us to be generous. Abraham passed the test, the Nephites and most men fail. You wrote, that concerning wealth’s place in the “pride cycle”, “Nibley and others have read this as being a simple condemnation of the wealthy. This, I think, is too easy.” EASY? This is a cop out. In his writings on wealth Nibley is issuing a call to consecration. Call it easy to say that wealth is to be given away and not kept, but maybe you could show us how easy it is. All of our demented thoughts on wealth and its benign or neutral status I think have something to do with the shared symbols and origins (ancient Mesopotamia) of temple and market. It is thousands of years of culture we are fighting against if we struggle to arrive at the realization that a divine soceity and a market-based society are ultimately incompatible. Jesus casting the money changers out of the temple wasn’t for their rowdiness or the smell of livestock (which the temple had anyway)–he said, “Ye have made it a den of theives.” Honest businessmen? Thieves? My tirade grows long and overbearing, so I say the supermarket is evil. I think it is shameful that some Mormons, adherents of a Millennarian religion, embrace globalism and corporate culture. If we have lost sight of our idealistic utopian beginnings, I think we have totally missed the point of our religion and ignored a tremendous portion of scripture and the Prophet’s teaching. I believe God’s weeping for the sins of the world continues. More than a few tears have doubtless been shed for greed and man’s inhumanity to man. God forgive us.

  9. Nate Oman on February 14, 2005 at 7:51 am

    Jeremy: I think that there is a lot of truth to the claim that much of the choice offered by the supermarket is illusory, in the sense that there is not much difference between different brands of corn. However, even the choice offered by a stripped down, generic only kind of supermarket is really monumental compared to what was available even a couple of generations ago, to say nothing of what is available in much of the developing world. Another reality is that avoiding the souless, mass-produced shopping experience of Wallmart is essentially a form of consumption. Shopping in a more “authentic” enviroment tends to cost more money, and it is — understandably — a form of consumption that those lower down on the socio-economic ladder choose to forego.

    Steve: Matt’s toung in cheek comments point to the complications ignored by your somewhat longer screed, namely that wealth does do something besides cankering the soul. The poor live harder lives, die sooner, and experience more suffering than the rich not necessarily because the rich make them suffer but rather because they are poor. It may be the case that they are poor because the rich exploit them, expropriate their substance, etc. In some cases this is true, but in many cases it is not. This is why I find the Book of Mormon’s discussion of wealth in someways more interesting than the NT’s discussion. (And why I find the Book of Mormon ultimately more interesting than Nibley’s glosses upon it.) It is easy to see why a publican is a loathsome figure. He is wealthy because he takes the substance of the poor pure and simple. Commerce, however, is not the same as expropriation. What is interesting in the Book of Mormon is that it talks about the problems of wealth independent of the problems of exprorpriation. Indeed, it talks about wealth as a result of righteosness rather than as a result of evil. (Note: This is not the same thing as saying that the righteous always become wealthy or that the wealthy are always righteous.) I do think that you point to an important link, however. Namely, that the logic behind the myth of freedom is essentially contiguous with the logic behind permissiveness, moral decay, MTV-society, etc. etc. Freedom produces the supermarket but it also produces huge markets in p0rn, sleeze, etc.

    Winfried: I wonder to what extent liberation theology and the other aspects of the third world movement within Catholicism represent an adequate response to the problem of world poverty. It seems to me that the countries that have moved from poverty to relative prosperity have done so by and large not through the global redistribution of wealth, but rather by producing stuff to that the rest of the world wants to buy. This is overly simplistic, I realize, but there is, I think, a hard kernel of truth to it.

  10. Nate Oman on February 14, 2005 at 7:55 am

    Russell writes: ““What think ye of the supermarket?” Depends on if they sell sugar beets. ”

    Russell, be nice. I only have about two or three ideas, and my only hope is to find new ways of repackaging them…

  11. Frank McIntyre on February 14, 2005 at 8:32 am

    “Russell, be nice. I only have about two or three ideas, and my only hope is to find new ways of repackaging them…”

    Sounds suspiciously like Nate has turned into a cereal producer. No wonder the concern for supermarkets.

  12. Ivan Wolfe on February 14, 2005 at 8:43 am

    Jeremy –

    Aldi – that brings back memories of my mission in Chicago. That store was what allowed us elders to stay within budget. Cheap, cheap food. The only prodcut I didn’t like was the chili, which was twice as fatty as most other brands available elsewhere, but the food was cheap and met a minimum standard of quality.

  13. Frank McIntyre on February 14, 2005 at 11:04 am

    Jeremy,

    My son used the word Ginormous regularly for quite a while.

    Steve,

    If supermarkets are evil, why have modern prophets been so lax in warning us away from them and failed to encourage us to fight them?

  14. John David Payne on February 14, 2005 at 11:06 am

    Steve, I support your rejection of the market-based society. From your condemnation of supermarkets, I can only assume that you are a subsistence farmer. Good for you, buddy! Stick it to The Man. Show your dispproval of the global system of exploitation by boycotting the products of the evil corporatist globalization monster. Start with computers. From now on, write your thoughts on willow bark. Or come talk to me — I live in Somerville, MA. But please don’t use a car or an airplane to make your trip. And when I see you, I hope you’ll be wearing clothes you made yourself from your own cotton. Just remember — stay off the internet. It’s EVIL.

  15. Russell Arben Fox on February 14, 2005 at 12:31 pm

    Nate–

    “I only have about two or three ideas, and my only hope is to find new ways of repackaging them…”

    But fortunately, they are among the most important of ideas, and so constantly throwing them out in different contexts is good for us; it means we don’t go very long without being reminded of the (I think) intractable and related moral issues of wealth, poverty, autonomy, choice, freedom, community and tradition. I link to your classic sugar beet post not to needle you, but to bring up what is probably my favorite thread from T&S’s whole history.

    Frank–

    “If supermarkets are evil, why have modern prophets been so lax in warning us away from them and failed to encourage us to fight them?”

    Possibly because they haven’t read enough by me yet to realize what sort of socio-economic arrangements and priorities must inevitably follow from the principles of consecration. I’m sure it’s on their to-do list though. I have not infrequently heard paens to the sort of environments and choices which make it possible for the Saints to avoid working, shopping or otherwise spending money on the Sabbath day, but admittedly the applicability of such counsel to the sort of wider socio-economic issues which Nate invokes is debatable.

    Then of course there is the surprising absence from general conference addresses in recent decades of any extensive defense of free trade, market specialization, or corporate farming, but then absence doesn’t prove a negative.

    Steve,

    “Steve, I support your rejection of the market-based society. From your condemnation of supermarkets, I can only assume that you are a subsistence farmer.”

    Interesting how the only alternative to a complete embrace of the sociological agenda which makes possible the reduction of all lived material realities and forms of production to an exchange basis driven by impersonal economic rules is to become a subsistence farmer who rejects all forms of technology whatsoever. I didn’t realize the choice was so stark; I had the impression that it was worth trying to explore compromises and alternatives. I guess I was wrong.

  16. William Morris on February 14, 2005 at 12:55 pm

    When I returned from my mission (to Romania), one of the major instances of culture shock was entering an American supermarket.

    There were supermarkets in Bucharest — there were even some very nice ones stocked with imported goods.

    But the amount of goods packed into American supermarkets was overwhelming as was the amount of packaging as well as how unecessary and bright the packaging was — I had a minute or two of sensory overload. I also found the amount of choices that weren’t really choices among certain product lines — soda, bread, cold cereal, candy — to be absurd. My first thought was — why not take the money wasted on packaging and either make the product cheaper or increase its quality?

    But the strangest thing of all was an innovation that I guess happened while I was away.

    In some aisles there were these bright red plastic things that stuck out from the shelves that had a blinking red light on them and that dispensed coupons for the items that were on the shelves behind them. I found them annoying (as do many Americans — I would imagine), but above all I found the whole idea completely nonsensical. Why not just change the price of the item rather than waste all the space and paper and plastic?

  17. Nate Oman on February 14, 2005 at 12:58 pm

    Russell writes: “I guess I was wrong.”

    As I have been trying to explain to you for a couple of years… ;->

  18. Frank McIntyre on February 14, 2005 at 1:15 pm

    “Then of course there is the surprising absence from general conference addresses in recent decades of any extensive defense of free trade, market specialization, or corporate farming, but then absence doesn’t prove a negative.”

    I understand the “absence proves nothing” argument, but I mildly disagree in the realm of salvation. I think that the Prophets and Apostles tend to focus on the things that matter most for our salvation, and the absence of something indicates that it is not currently a front-burner item. I am content to believe that moving from the status quo economic arrangement is simply not currently a priority thing for our salvation. That is true either towards socialism or open trade.

    I make this argument based on its absence from prophetic discourse. I understand the pitfalls in being too gung ho in making such arguments from absence, but I think in general the merits make up for that. The most important caveat is that something may simply be too good for us right now. I believe we will one day need to live some sort of United Order, but that currently we are not ready. Thus the doctrine is good, but wrong for today, and so absent from prophetic counsel.

    Debt and idleness are, of course, regularly attacked, for good cause.

  19. John David Payne on February 14, 2005 at 1:23 pm

    “I had the impression that it was worth trying to explore compromises and alternatives. I guess I was wrong.”

    RAF, It takes a big man to admit his mistakes. Kudos to you for being that big man.

  20. Geoff Johnston on February 14, 2005 at 2:31 pm

    I tend to agree with Frank, Nate, and friends regarding world economics; but with Russell, Steve, and friends on personal economics. (Though we may all feel that way)

    I think you are right in #18, Frank, when you say the Lord is not interested in mobilizing the Church to change US or world economic policies. The Lord will take care of that himself when He returns and implements the full law of consecration under his monarchy.

    However, the Lord and modern prophets are surely extremely interested in how we as individuals manage our own wealth. Over in some of the little islands of the bloggernaccle there have been some interesting discussions on that topic (like here and here). My primary concern is my soul. Therefore, when it comes to these financial questions I’m mostly worried about how much of my ever-increasing income it is appropriate to consume and what percentage ought to be given to the poor. I think Steve is right when he mentions “our utter cluelessness on the nature of our own culture”. As Nate conceded, the freedoms we embrace allow for all the ugly appetite-driven baggage we are combating now.

    Last, I don’t agree with Nate’s assessment of Nibley and his “glossing” on the message of the Book of Mormon and wealth. While the essays reprinted in Approaching Zion may not go into much detail from the Book of Mormon, I found the essays contained in The Prophetic Book of Mormon at least as compelling and damning concerning our modern attitudes on wealth. Those essays rely almost exclusively on Book of Mormon texts.

  21. Jonathan Green on February 14, 2005 at 2:44 pm

    Nate, I love grocery shopping, and your outline of competing supermarket myths helps clarify my thinking about it. Thanks very much. Is it possible to work out a practical theology of supermarkets? Although the Myth of Freedom and the Myth of Exploitation are meant to be exaggerated ideals, can we make them standards against which to judge our outlets for consumption?

    Aldi–of thee I sing! I completely agree with Jeremy on this one. Via thoroughly capitalist principles of efficent distribution, Aldi delivers food and household items at an unbelievably good price. I actually prefer some of their products to anything else. Stay away from the British Palmer-brand chocolate, but otherwise their chocolate products are pure German engineering. When I shop there, I don’t feel like I’m somehow being ripped off.

    I contrast this experience with shopping at the nearby grocery stores. Some honestly provide an incredible variety of products at somewhat higher prices than the competition. At others, the Myth of Freedom is paper-thin, with identical products differentiated only by packaging and price. It doesn’t help that all the stores put the same items on sale every week. Coupled with soul-stealing “discount” cards, it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm for shopping there.

  22. Ana on February 14, 2005 at 8:06 pm

    If you really don’t like the supermarket, you don’t have to support it, at least not for *all* your purchases. I buy natural snack foods through a food co-op, where a group of idealists orders through a distributor, eliminating the supermarket step, saving some money and putting some aside for charity in the process. It’s run by volunteers at a local “Unity Church” (forgive me, but I am unsure whether that’s the same thing as a Unitarian church). We’re working on a system to get produce delivered from a nearby diversified organic farm. I buy food storage items through the LDS Church system. I shop the local farmer’s markets in the spring, summer and fall. I get honey from my friend whose husband is a beekeeper. I pick up walnuts from the property of some ward members. I have in the past grown a garden (not this year, as I’m planning a move).

    If you feel any moral discomfort with the way you’re shopping, for heaven’s sake make some changes! You don’t have to change everything at once, but you can start. And you will probably end up with a healthier family if you stay on that path, too.

    The real freedom of choice is not within the walls of the supermarket … it’s in the wide world! There are so many more choices than most of us realize. I never realized them until I came here, but looking back I know these things were available when I lived in Salt Lake, too.

    My current plan does still leave me shopping at big boxes for some items. But it’s comforting to me that Food4Less doesn’t get *all* my grocery money (though they do have the best fresh produce in the winter, even better than the ritzy stores). And WalMart gets none!

  23. Steve L on February 14, 2005 at 11:47 pm

    Regarding, “Thus the doctrine is good, but wrong for today, and so absent from prophetic counsel.” Brigham Young had some scathing words for such foolishness: “Some of our Elders, and, in fact, some of the Twelve will tell you, “yes, yes, the Order is a splendid principle and will bring happiness, etc., but it is not hardly time to enter into it, wait a little while until the people understand it a little better.” Why, they are fools! They don’t know what they talk about. They have ears to hear and will not hearken, and have eyes to see and will not understand. . . . When our conduct hedges up the way of angels how can they bless us? . . . How can they help us work out our salvation? When Joseph Smith was alive I can say that I never heard him lay one plan out for the people but would have been a success if it had been carried out as he directed. And I have seen the same thing in myself. I don’t care how the world goes, what the President [of the U.S.] or his emissaries do. It matters nothing to me. What I am thinking of and interested about is how do the Latter-day Saints do? The devil is in the community and he has not been turned out. . . . Well, I still have hope in Israel.” (Cited in Approaching Zion, pp. 385-386). All the business spoken here about absence of condemnation for globalization (or anything else) in prophetic discourse is nonsense. General authorities haven’t urged members to throw away their televisions yet, but who would seriously condemn a saint who never watches television and encourages others to do the same? General conference is a forum for very broad spiritual principles delivered in a way that will apply to church members in Utah, Quebec, Ghana, France, Ukraine, or Hong Kong. There’s very little direct condemnation of SPECIFIC cultural phenomena in general conference. If I were to go by the standard that only things labelled evil in general conference are evil, then I would think the only evils of the modern world are homosexuality, pornography, excessive body piercing and sex and violence in the media. I don’t think any of us would dare go that far. Jesus taught, “Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cock crowing, or in the morning: Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch” (Mark 13). To Babylon Christ has said, “for thy merchants were the great men of the earth; for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived. And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth.” (Rev. 18) All nations were deceived (except America). For how could anyone deceive God’s chosen people. The last days are a time for watchfulness and caution, yet someone condemns the behemoth globalization and the saints can only resist rather than listen. “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” (Matthew 24) We who are so enamored with the “great signs and wonders” of modern gadgetry and convenience are led away into idolatry, laziness, stupidity and obesity. And you are all here defending these abominations? It’s alright though, marginalize these ideas and paint them as the fringe. Better fringe than mainstream, for as president Hinckley spoke, “Are we moving to mainstream America as some observers believe? [. . .] I fear we are.” (Oct. 1997 General Conference) So go on, and be secure in the knowledge that if an evil has not been condemned over the conference center pulpit, it is not an evil. God has not shown you the way to judge good and evil, that’s what General Authorities are for. Let’s leave it to them to think and receive revelation.

  24. Rosalynde Welch on February 15, 2005 at 12:01 am

    Nate, wonderful post. I wish I had something useful to add; maybe if I keep reading you and Russell I’ll finally figure things out.

    Jeremy, I loved your comment. The exuberance of your description reminds me of a wonderful passage from Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” in which the narrator waxes sublime on the commodities available at market.