“What is this?”
The fresh-faced checkout clerk holds the sweet potato and looks at me quizzically. Many people don’t know the difference between yams and sweet potatoes (Or what the grocery stores label as yams and sweet potatoes. I understand that they’re mislabelled everywhere and most of us don’t realize it.) so even seasoned checkout clerks ask me that question from time to time.
I confirm for the young woman that the vegetable is a sweet potato and as she pages through the index of produce near her till to find the code I can’t help but smile. She just started working there. Last week it was the rainbow chard that stumped her when she was unable to find the code in her book even after I told her what it was.
I’ve always marveled at the memory that these people who check out our groceries possess, and their ability to remember countless four or five digit codes (did you know that the five digit ones that begin with number nine are used for organic produce?) for every fruit and vegetable imaginable. I imagine them laying in bed at night with a copy of the code book quizzing themselves on the codes as they run down the list. Kind of reminds me of how I once prepared for Social Studies tests.
I can’t help but think that this job has gotten harder in recent years as a plethora of previously unheard of veggies have begun to appear on the grocer’s shelves. Twenty or thirty years ago it was enough to know the codes for ordinary things like potatoes, carrots, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, apples, oranges, and bananas. The list was probably manageable; the code book much thinner.
But nowadays there are more exotic things–things that I never heard about when I was a younger woman–like kale, red Swiss chard, shallots, rainbow Swiss chard, kiwi fruit, Asian pears, and an almost endless variety of even common things like apples (Gala, Braeburn, Fuji, Cameo, Pink Lady, to name a few). The challenge of remembering what all of these things are, let alone what their corresponding codes are, must be almost insurmountable for a newbie checkout person.
It’s good news for those of us who consume grocery store produce though. Remember when salad meant a bowl of tasteless iceberg lettuce, equally flavourless tomatoes, and a generous dollop of Thousand Island dressing? No wonder I never liked salad as a child. These days salad creations are just that—delicious and diverse combinations of veggies, fruits, nuts, oils, vinegars, and anything else that strikes one’s fancy.
I can’t help but look at this with my “grandma eyes” and consider the world my grandchildren are growing up in. I don’t think they’ll have to ask what a yam, sweet potato, chard, or kale is should they have a stint as a grocery story checkout clerk. I’m thankful that they’ve all consumed more varieties (and just more in general) of fruit and vegetables in their short lives then I did before I reached mid-adulthood.
I wonder if as adults they will get the majority of their produce from a green grocer or if they’ll step out their back door and pick things from a thriving kitchen garden. I wonder if they’ll have favorite vegetables that I’ve never even heard of today. I wonder if, when I visit them, I’ll secretly dislike the newfangled concoctions they serve me and if I’ll long for a good old fashioned kale salad instead.