By Laura Moore
In a flash, I could feel a feisty frustration burgeoning inside of me. The fight-or-flight mode kicked in, and since I'm not one for running away, my emotional fists reared their ugly heads.
The milk I normally buy for our son was gone. It was on sale, and a huge void--where all of those cartons once were--peered back at me.
The negative space screamed loud and clear: How did you not know this was on sale? Why didn't you come earlier? Or yesterday? Or two thousand days before that?
My brain battled back by suggesting that--regardless of which day I came--it was positively absurd that a grocery store would run out of MILK, that a grocery store would fail to stock enough in-demand products to fulfill the needs of mothers who were shopping at reasonable hours of the day.
But the empty shelf didn't care. It just continued to mock me with a its blankness, its void popping out like a neon-colored sign.
Defeated, I scanned up and down the remaining options: Horizon's Organic Milk (they're on the foods to avoid list because of DHA additives: see here), Organic Valley (would have been great, but this store only sells reduced fat options, not whole milk), Simple Truth with Omega 3 (presumably from synthesized sources so this one won't work either) and all sorts of soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk (which I don't want to use for a whole host of reasons, most notably because they're NOT milk).
I gritted my teeth and scanned the bay once more. Then I turned around to the service desk which was conveniently positioned behind me.
"M'am, do you know if you have more milk in the back? The kind I get for my son is gone."
"It looks like we're all out. If we don't have any up there, then we don't have any left."
"But, how could you run out of milk? Could I make a request that you stock more of it? You clearly don't have enough for the demand."
"I'm sorry, but I can't do anything about it," she said, and then she pointed to the other cartons and suggested that I choose a different option.
In that instant, I almost snapped. I almost launched into a lecture about the three million articles and blog posts I've read detailing the dangers of ingesting synthesized vitamins, pesticides and antibiotics.
No I can't CHOOSE another option, I wanted to tell her.
And I don't have time to drive across the street to Fresh Market, or 0.8 miles to different Kroger, 4.3 miles to a third Kroger, or 5.2 miles to a fourth. And even though I'm tempted to go to Giant Eagle--who is more expensive but never sells out of a product like milk--I also don't have time to drive 1.4 miles or 2.9 miles or 5 miles to get there. Nor do I have time to drive 1.4 miles to Aldi, 3.3 miles to Huffman's Market, 3.8 miles to Trader Joe's, or 3.9 miles to one Whole Foods, and 4.1 miles to another.
And even if it was tempting to kill birds with one stone, I can't really squeeze in a trip to any one of the four Targets that are less than 7 miles away, or the Meijer's that is 3.3 miles away, or the Walmart Super Center which is 1.4 miles away.
I only have time to stop at this ONE grocery store, a store that stands among 16 different options, all of which sell various types of organic milk.
I could feel my case building, my anger rising.
If you can't stock the staples, I'll just start shopping somewhere else, I wanted to write in a complaint email to Kroger management.
Or I wanted to tweet: "@kroger if you keep running out of milk, I will have to start shopping @GiantEagle again. #disappointed."
And then of course, when they'd respond and apologize, I'd add my frustration that they were also out of fresh basil, and no one in the store could direct me to low-sodium black beans.
But as I meandered through the rest of the market, as I picked up fresh cuts of meat, tossed organic to-go toddler fruit and vegetable pouches into my cart, located several types of quinoa, snagged frozen bags of spinach and peas and returned back to the healthy dairy section where I scooped up local, organic, cage-free eggs from an Ohio Amish farmer, I realized my earlier panic, frustration and infuriation was snobby, privileged and absurd.
I live in the opposite of a food desert; I live in an area inundated with grocery stores stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, organic dairy and moderately processed grain. And I have a car to drive around to each of those 16 stores, and access to computers where I can easily figure out who is having sales. I have a smart phone equip to handle electronic coupons, and to search for healthy recipes. I have the luxury of choice, the luxury of complaining, the luxury of high shopping expectations.
I have way more than I need.
By the time I filled my cart and stood in line to check out, my frustration had turned to curiosity. I opened a browser and searched for information about hunger in Columbus. And while several links and articles popped up, I found myself drawn to a story that appeared in the Columbus Dispatch on September 4, 2014.
The article says that Ohio--who identifies 16% percent of the population as having "limited or uncertain ability to provide nutritious meals"--is tied with Mississippi as the third worst state in the country for food insecurity. And when they break down the numbers and look only at children, the article states that 650,000 Ohio kids (enough to fill Ohio State's football stadium more than SIX times) experience hunger.
As I read those words--as I thought about the reality of those statistics--I wanted to slap myself across the face.
Minutes before, I was worried about ONE grocery store selling out of ONE kind of organic milk. I was worried about my child having too much synthesized Omega 3 when the mothers of 650,000 kids around me are worried whether or not their child will have enough of anything to eat and drink.
"Did you find everything you needed today?" the cashier asked when I finally inched my way to the front of the cue. And as I watched him scan those fresh, organic vegetables, those juicy, organic fruits, those grass-fed, organic cuts of meat, and that carton of almost-perfect milk, I looked up at him and smiled.
"Yes, thank you," I said with a rush of humility.
Then I came home and started reading, started thinking, started penning a post. I came home and started figuring out what I could do to help.
Please see below for links. If you know of any other organizations, send them my way, and I will add them to the list.
How to help in Central Ohio:
Mid-Ohio Food Bank
Children's Hunger Alliance
How to help nationally:
How to help globally:
World Food Programe
Stop Hunger Now
World Food Prize