An Open Letter to Giant Foods

Dear Giant,

When I first moved to Maryland, there you were, right across the street from my apartment building, hulking among the Caribou Coffee and 24-hour CVS. I thought, what luck to have found you there, and so close. I dreamed of walking to you, my arms empty, and returning home with an abundance of individually-wrapped snack foods, ice cream cakes, and other novelties. I imagined fresh celery at any time.

But the reality was different, Giant. You were cold, distant, unresponsive. When I first shopped you, your staff were reticent. When I once asked where the pepperoni was, I was asked to wait there for a moment. While the meat department man went to look, I glanced around, hoping to see a little pepperoni somewhere. A little pepperoni in a logical place isn’t too much to ask, Giant. It really isn’t. And then, looking back, I saw the man I’d asked talking and laughing with another employee and another customer. He was clearly not on the pepperoni case. And that was the tip of the iceberg.

You were under construction and things were messy. You asked me to pardon your dust while you got ready to serve me better, but my expectations were already low and still unmet. Your produce was sad, wilted. Your V-8 aisle was consistently bare. And where was the pepperoni? I still don’t know, even after these three months.

So I broke up with you Giant. Maybe you didn’t notice, so wrapped up were you in your makeover and facelift and new logo. I snuck behind your back and drove the ten extra blocks to the Safeway, which was dirtier and in a scarier neighborhood, but the people there were slightly kinder to me, which is saying very little, but in this case is saying something. And there I found the special items I was yearning for, like bottled minced garlic and V-8 and bread with extra protein and yes, they even had pepperoni there, Giant, right where I could see it.

But then I could see that you had changed, Giant. You had adopted new brand colors–yellow, purple, green. Bright, festive hues. I thought, this new wardrobe might be the start of something. So, tentatively, I went back to you. I went back to you and stayed to the shadows; I knocked on the melons ever so quietly. I even bought a ready-made quiche one night when I needed a quick meal, and you were there for me, Giant, just like I needed. You were stocked in V-8, you had fat free yogurt on special.

But tonight, Giant, things went south again. I went to you for cilantro–citrusy, tangy cilantro–and there was none. No fresh cilantro, no cilantro paste in the convenient tubes (my preference for the turkey chili with cilantro cream recipe). When I asked your produce man if you had cilantro, he was walking away from me. He didn’t. He barely looked at me as he shook his head, No. I said, “NO CILANTRO?” And perhaps I sounded a bit like a crazy person then, Giant, but honestly! Who doesn’t carry cilantro! It’s an important ingredient in many kinds of cooking, not just Mexican and Tex-Mex but other kinds as well. He didn’t respond and kept his back to me as he walked off. Fuming, I wanted to yell out to my fellow customers, “Who doesn’t carry f—ing cilantro?!” but I stayed quiet, Giant. I held my tongue.

Continuing to shop, I tried to find pinto beans. They were not in the “American” bean aisle where we keep all of the “American” canned vegetables and “traditional” beans. There were canned carrots, canned peas, canned asparagus, god—even canned artichoke hearts and canned beets—but no pinto beans. Yet, you had plenty of collard greens and “southern style” pinto beans on hand, didn’t you, Giant? Didn’t you?

So I did the only thing I could think of. I went to the “Hispanic Foods” aisle, which shares shelf space with “Asian Foods” and “Rice dishes” that come in a box. Giant, I want you to know something. First, the Mexican diet consist of more than just tortillas, horchata, brightly-colored sodas in bottles, and seventy-five different varieties of bean. But you wouldn’t know that. And there are more producers of Mexican food than Goya.

There are many other options. You have no Herdez salsa. I mean, really! But, it’s a specialty item and I can get over it. I mean, it’s actually Mexican and everything.

And then the true offense occurred. What did I see among the bottled spices, by the cardamom, the cinnamon, and the caraway seeds? Dried Cilantro Leaves. DRIED CILANTRO LEAVES. While it’s an absolute travesty to cook with them, it proved something. It proved that you were lying to me, Giant!

I was ready to give up on you forever, Giant. I was thinking of even driving the six miles out to the Superfresh that’s right by the Chipotle and the PetSmart and the Target Greatland, which is my preferred Target anyway, and I was ready to forget about you, even when I’m drunk and needing a frozen pizza, I wasn’t even going to go back to you. That’s how very serious I was.

But I want you to know something, Giant. I let you win. At the checkouts, I saw this woman working. I’ve seen her before. She always smiles, works quickly, chit chats. I wanted her to be the way I said good bye to you. I wanted to give you the chance to make it right.

And Christina–that’s her name–Christina really did. She erased all of my bad experiences with you in under three minutes. She was pleasant, she was kind. She scanned a stray coupon she had on her counter that matched something I bought, saving me 50 cents. She asked me about Arizona. When I said I’d only lived here for three months, she said, “Welcome!” And she meant it.

I may not spend a lot of money each week, Giant—I’m only one man—but tonight, my $80 was for Christina. My Weight Watchers yogurt, my ground turkey, my frozen peas, my bread, my sugar-free dark chocolate Jell-O pudding snacks—all of it, all of that profit you made off of me, that belongs to Christina.

Hold on to her, Giant. She’s just about the only good thing you’ve got going for you.

Charlie Jensen

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