Food Ethnography Project Kylie Kamba Although food and buying food may seem like an everyday component of life, it is filled with hidden meanings. What makes us choose what to eat? Why do we go to certain places in order to purchase food? Do prices limit the kinds of food we are able to buy? What time of the week or month are we more likely to go grocery shopping? All of these questions show that a lot of decisions are made regarding purchasing food whether we realize it or not. In order to fully understand these questions I went to three different types of grocery stores. The first store I went to was Meijer, a family grocer that sells a large variety of products. The store carries fresh produce, traditional American foods, paper and plastic products, and even beauty items. As I walked into the store the very first thing that caught my eye was a table filled will Halloween sugar cookies and treats that were being sold for very low prices. After walking around the store I started to see a correlation, almost all of the sugary, processed foods seemed to be on sale. From Coke products, to Halloween candy, to day-old pies and cakes, these items were being sold at relatively low prices. Next, I turned my attention to the customers, all of whom were dressed very casually, despite the few men and women dressed in suits who must be stopping for dinner on their way home from work. The customers hardly interacted with each other except for a few “excuse me”s as they weaved out of the aisles. Even when it was obvious that someone was lost in the sea of aisles based on their confused looks and glances at the aisle directory, no one asked any employees for guidance. The only exception to this was the few people at the deli who had to communicate their order. The overall mood of this shopping experience was to grab what you need quickly and to mind your own business. The next store that I went to was Whole Foods. Figuring I might as well make it worth the trip I decided to buy a small salad, a container of sliced cantaloupe and a caprese salad from the deli. These three items cost me around $24, more than I was expecting to spend. Although these foods were all fresh, healthy, and delicious I soon realized this was not the store for a broke college student or for a family on a budget. The customers were mostly middle-aged individuals, a couple of families, a few college students, and various young couples. There seemed to be more of a connection between the customers and the workers. I observed many making small talk while checking out, mostly the employees commenting on the customer’s food choices, recommending similar dishes or explaining their love for the items. Another thing I observed was how much the store really advertised their fresh approach. Everywhere there were signs that stated the products were made freshly, that they were healthy, and there was an overuse of the color green. The marketers of Whole Foods really want their consumers to get an earthly, friendly vibe while shopping at their stores. My last stop became a little tricky. After adventuring to the Lansing City Market I realized that I might have made a wrong turn, as the atmosphere dramatically changed around me and I soon realized that I maybe should have brought a friend with me. After a series of unfortunate events including having my phone die and realizing I was quite far from campus I decided it might be in my best interest to go to the MSU student organic farm stand on campus. Although it wasn’t the farmers market experience I was hoping for I was excited to talk to the volunteers at the stand and witness their products first hand. All of the food they were selling proved that they truly were organic farmers for everything was strictly seasonal, fall foods. There were small pumpkins for baking, radishes, kale, carrots, and lots of other vegetables. The prices were relatively affordable, for I knew the products would be worth the cost. I explained to the farmers that I had recently been to the organic farm on a field trip, which made them quite excited. They really seemed passionate about farming and I think they enjoyed talking to customers about what they do. This was by far the most personal response that I received from the three markets. They loved to announce to passers-by that all of their produce was locally grown, just a few miles away and that the taste really proved this. Visiting these different grocers made me think of the film, A Place at the Table. In this film food insecurity and poverty are really analyzed. These families are used to eating a lot of processed foods and being given donations of processed foods. Going to Meijer showed me why this might be, not only are these items on sale but they are also being advertised like crazy. Especially if families take their kids to the store with them they are most likely going to be begging for these treats, and the parents are going to approve of the prices. I was also reminded of Mark Bittman’s article, Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?. After going to Whole Foods I have to disagree with him that eating fresh foods can be cheaper than eating processed foods. I do have to take into account that Whole Foods is a quite expensive store, but from what I found processed foods seem to be significantly cheaper than fresh produce and healthy items. Perhaps different grocers vary but in my research it seemed like the extremely processed foods were the hot deal of the day. By observing these three markets I really learned that a lot of things influence our decision making while shopping. Grocery stores market certain families and people through their pricing and advertising. We feel codes of etiquette while shopping from whom we communicate with, to how we dress and behave. By analyzing everyday tasks one can see just how many decisions we have to make throughout the day.