Thoughts on Food: Part 1 – Working in it and for it


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Not too long ago I took on a 2nd job. I thought I would share how that’s going. I work 20 hours a week (two 4 pm to 10 pm evening shifts after school and an 8 hour shift on Sunday) as a cashier at a large grocery store. I earn some money (about $6.75 an hour after taxes) and get a 10% discount on store brands. While I tend to spend that 2nd paycheck in the store it still means I’m spending less of the 1st paycheck there.

The store I work at is a huge flagship store setdown in the middle of a college town surrounded by forests and corn fields. The workers are diverse in age and ethnicity and in other ways as well. It is a tiring but good job and I like almost all of the people I work with and a good many of the customers too. The customers are as diverse as the workforce with a lot of international college students among them. I’ve tried to learn how to say hello and thank you in many different languages, including ASL so I can have more authentic interactions with them in the brief time we are together.

Because our store is so big we have an amazing array of food. We have a bistro, a butcher, a bakery and a deli, a sushi chef and a fine wine steward. We have gourmet cheese (like the Swiss cheese is really, actually from Switzerland) and our own Starbucks with all the macchiatos and PSL you could ever want. We have vegan, vegetarian, gluten-, high fructose corn syrup-, transfat- and GMO-free, low sodium foods and locally grown organic produce as well as exotic items like yucca root and dragon fruit.  We have cruelty free cosmetics and wild-caught salmon. We have kimchi and potstickers, empanadas and curry. We have 20 lb bags of rice and  individually packaged nibble-sized snacks. We have frosted flakes and Hohos and an entire double aisle of ice cream and three more of chips and crackers.

Food aside we are a happening sort of place, particularly on the weekends when we have live music and wine and craft beer tastings, free samples of small amounts of delicious foods, face painting and free balloon animals  (and I’m talking golden-horned, black eyed unicorns here, not little pink wiener dogs that slowly untwist as you shop).

We are a very busy store – the closest to the college campus and currently benefiting from an influx of customers from a grocery chain that recently declared bankruptcy and closed its doors.  At certain times, before a college football game, or holiday weekend, during move- in or family week the crowds are overwhelming and the pace frenetic. The work can be both physically and mentally draining – long hours standing on your feet (even with those cushy mats beneath them) and a fast, repetitive pace with the stress of timing goals hanging over your head (scan 27 items per minute from the start of the transaction to payment).

The customers are the best and worst part of the job. I love the little connections that are made and the stories shared – the chemistry professor from the university who promised to come do out reach at my high school, the young men from Hangzhou, China (which I visited last year) who were so surprised when I greeted them in Mandarin, the little old lady who buys a single carrot, banana and apple, a sliver of cheese and a can of chicken noodle soup because, as she confides each time, her children are grown and she lost her husband and she doesn’t have anyone to cook for anymore. I have my regulars – folk who shop late or early on Sunday and come through my line because I recognize them and I’m always ready to sacrifice my 27 items per minute goal to chat about how their day has gone or ask after their family or pets. There’s even an older gentleman or two who appreciate my sense of humor and come through my line to enjoy a little banter or sharing a joke.

On the flip side are the rude and unkind customers, the ones who find fault and complain about everything – the lack of parking spaces, the number of other customers, the damp counter in the bathroom, the lack of fresh golden chard… There are the customers intentionally trying to rip you off by printing the label for a less expensive bulk food item when the bag is obviously full of the premium stuff or who have peeled off the organic label on their half dozen avocados in hopes of getting 2 for $3 instead of 2 for $5. There are the ones who, even though there are no baggers present and a long line behind them, won’t lift a finger to pack their own groceries or who remember at the last minute that they forgot the cream cheese and ‘could you send someone to get it?’ and when you do they don’t like the brand the errand boy comes back with and tells you to ‘just forget it’ while mumbling under their breath about bad service. Luckily, most days, those customers are fewer than 1 in 10.

One of the downsides of the job is the additional amount of money I spend at the store.  Food shopping is a weakness of mine, linked I am sure to periods of want in childhood and more recently, so I have a tendency to stock up when there are sales. And we always have sales! I am working to cut back on that, reminding the kids of needs versus wants and not cashing my check at the store.

The other downside is how much the job eats into family and ‘me’ time which is already limited. The two days I work the evening shift I barely see the kids that I am working the 2nd job to feed and support. And I am much more tired these days. I am not sure how long I will be able to keep up this pace but with my youngest daughter needing braces and the rear suspension of the car about to come loose due to rust, I suspect it will have to be awhile longer!

This entry was posted in Food, Hunger, jobs, sales, shopping and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Thoughts on Food: Part 1 – Working in it and for it

  1. Robin Wilson says:

    Hang in there. You are still an inspiration to your readers. We are so proud of you!

  2. I remember my days of cashiering at the grocery store well – it was a mixed bag like you describe here back then as well. We’re bracing for the need for braces as well, I hope that you won’t need the store’s paycheck for too too much longer. You’re sacrificing for a worthy cause but you deserve more rest and more time with your family. <3

  3. Debbie says:

    I’m 60 next month and have worked at acme for 32 years, many times I have missed party’s activities. I usually work in the bakery, but always have to check too, so I know where your coming from.

  4. Kay says:

    You are amazing!! Yes you are!

    I am so sad that your job as a full time educator does not pay enough to support your family. I feel like here in Massachusetts you’d be able to do it a little better at least.

    I am a single mom and I think about a second job but I feel like I literally cannot physically do it! It’s awful because I know so many do. We need the money but my mental and physical health are already suffering so….

    Again, you are amazing.

  5. tadpole says:

    Your grocery store sounds amazing! I’ve done my time – and still pick up the occasional shift as a cashier. For a time, when I was paying for braces for my youngest, my mantra was “straight, white teeth,” whenever I had to deal with a difficult customer. Ya do what ya gotta do.

    Stay strong.

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