February 4, 2013

The Kosher Consumer: A Tale of Two Cities

I have to admit that my usual supermarket excursion is to upscale stores that cater to middle class and well-to-do kosher customers. I often watch cash registers ring up hundreds of dollars in grocery bills including expensive kosher meat and fish. So when a friend challenged me to “visit 2-3 stores where you’ll see a different picture,” I readily accepted the challenge. And yes, it was a different world. 

In one store, almost two out of three of the customers used Food Stamps. For some that did not have Food Stamps, the purchase was recorded in an old fashioned ruled notebook. “Tell your mother, she should send some money with you next time,” the owner barked. When I asked the storekeeper what the balance was for this particular customer, he said $3,020. 

A woman with a double stroller rummaged through her pocketbook for a few coupons and meticulously went through a sheet with the store’s specials. Another woman in her ‘30’s argued that a sale item that had expired two days ago should still be honored.

In another store, the picture was eerily similar, only this was a large discount store where it seemed many of the customers bought bulk. Here too, I could not believe how many of the shoppers were on food stamps. Of course, as a longstanding member of the Board of the Met Council on Jewish Poverty, I was not surprised, but still actually witnessing this world of need was an entirely different story. 

In my final stop, I noticed an elderly Russian Jewish woman bargain for some well aged fruits and some other discarded grocery items, which she paid for and quickly shoved into a large well-worn shopping bag.