In 1947, the Little Goldens appeared in supermarkets. Available and affordable in towns too small to have a bookstore, they democratized quality picture books for children. By 1959, more than 150 titles had sold over a million copies each. . .The Poky Little Puppy, illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren, was on its way to becoming the best-selling English-language children’s picture book of all time.
Thinking about the role of the grocery store in disseminating one kind of literature got me thinking about its role in the religious lives of the people whom it serves.
It’s obvious that you can learn a lot about a community by shopping for food. Are stores within walking distance? On a bus route? Accessible only by car? How large is a store’s footprint? What kinds of foods are available? Prominently displayed? Which groceries are considered mainstream and which are quarantined as specialty items? Is alcohol easily accessible? Do groceries leave the store in plastic, paper, or cloth? Do shoppers meet each others’ eyes or exchange pleasantries when passing in the aisles? All these suggest something about a community’s mores, ethnic makeup, and socio-economic status.
Religious sensibilities are conveyed as well. Is hallel meat available? How much kosher food is offered? How are religious holidays treated, if at all?
In April, I saw a display just like this at the grocery store I visit most frequently:
Now, in July, the display is gone, but there’s still a separate rack of “Jewish” foods, though they aren’t labelled as such. They sit in a separate island, diagonically across from the shelves of Goya products. Elsewhere, placards over the aisles help shoppers locate Mexican, Italian, and Chinese foods, suggesting that they are cuisines that everyone would eat; matzah, in contrast, seems marketed to particular people.
The article about The Little Golden Books has me interested in a part of the store I never frequent: the small section for books and magazines, across from aisle from hair care products. I want to know if there are Bibles there, and if so what kinds. I want to know if there are many Christian romance novels. I don’t expect to find the Tibetan Book of the Dead, but I wonder if I might find Angels and Demons.
It just so happens that I need groceries, so I’ll get in my car, drive to my suburban store, and do some sociological work while I’m shopping.