I live in Belfast, Maine, and I don’t shop at the Belfast Co-op.
This is absolute sacrilege in this town – or it is in the other four wards. And I have dear friends who live in the other four wards who shop there almost exclusively. This not a blog post that intends to criticize them or the Co-op.
However, my family and I live in the Fifth Ward. Sounds ominous, I know. It is also known as the East Side, which sounds even more like a hotbed of gang violence than the Fifth Ward. It’s a weird place when compared to the rest of Belfast; aging, rusting trailers with trash in the yard sit alongside the occasional pristine wealthy house along the Passagassawakeag (say that three times fast!) river. Many houses, like mine, were built in the 1940s, when function was much more prized than artistic formality. There are trailer parks on cement and trailer parks that have well-kept grass. There are wild looking houses and there are manicured lawns. I love this side of town. It is where I fit in and it is also where I – like those who live around me – can afford to live.
For the record, one Mainer friend of mine says you can’t be a true Mainer until you have a toilet in the yard. While I will never try to pass myself off as an authentic Mainer, I sure wish I actually was from here, so I may put one in my front yard with a bush in it just to stand in visual solidarity. Although none of my neighbors actually have such a yard ornament, I assure you it would fit in and (hopefully) make everyone laugh.
So, how does this relate to my confession about the Belfast Co-op?
People on my side of town, self included, cannot afford to keep up appearances or go all organic or whatever to shop there. When people on the East Side talk about shopping locally, we mean one of two things: either getting our year’s supply of wood from the guy down the street who’s hard up for money or walking to the Big Apple on Rt. 1 for the essentials when we can’t get to Hannaford.
People on this side of town will actually walk the busy East Side roadsat night, pushing strollers, dragging along little kids, when one of the kids or the spouse is sick and desperate for soup or medicine at the Big Apple, especially when there’s not a family car for getting to Hannaford. We used to have a choice between the Big Apple and Goose River Market, but then that burned down. I won’t make any accusations here, because that’s for a court of law to decide, but if you feel like getting angry by all means look it up.
So, I confess, my kids don’t eat organic food. I can’t afford it. It’s lovely that the Co-op now accepts EBT, but I am very grateful that I am not in a financial position to need federal or state assistance – though I might be if I tried to feed my kids organic, allergen-free products all of the time. And when the latest exotic indoor farmer’s market came to town with a big celebratory, organic roar, I wasn’t cheering. I mean, it’s fine, but I haven’t been yet. Why would I go? I am happy local farmers have another available venue, but it doesn’t work for our family.
I used to feel some degree of shame about this. I used to feel like since I am an educated, ethical person, that the right thing for me to do would be to eat a lot less and force my kids to only eat the essentials so that I could go all organic. But – we are all doing our best, including those of us on the proverbial wrong side of the tracks. I love it here. I love my neighbors. My kids love orange macaroni and cheese with generic hot dogs.
We will survive.