It’s like a goddamn circus in there.
It really is. It’s like some bizarrely overlit funhouse, a massive chaotic attack on all your senses and an outright assault on your optic nerves, and that’s well before you’ve even made it past the towering display of Bud Light and well before the huge end-cap cases of Ruffles Sour Cream and Strychnine and about a mile away from the chemical-blasted, hormone-injected, meat-like slabs in the butcher’s section that seem to look at you as you amble by, and hiss.
This is what it feels like to walk into any giant chain supermarket these days, from Safeway to Albertsons to Ralphs to Vons to you name it, and I have hereby come to the slightly snarky conclusion that it’s a true wonder that more people don’t walk out of these places suffering something akin to full-body spasms and devolving into semi-catatonic mumblings about loudly colored boxes of S’Mores cereal and giant bags of neon-orange Doritos attacking them from above.
In fact, actually, some people do. Some people pick up on these nasty agents of vibrational doom far more than others. Maybe that someone is you. And maybe you don’t even realize just how bad it is. Yet.
Observe, won’t you, the frozen premolded wax-glazed Pepperoni Bagel Bites that taste like cardboard and rancid sheep’s blood. Note the Reese’s-flavored, sugar-drenched breakfast cereal that looks like something your dog coughed up and which makes your kids’ eyes wobble after they eat it.
Taste, won’t you, the yummy insect parts aswim in that foot-high stack of cheap-ass, hyperpink Oscar Mayer bologna. Listen in wonder as that case of Dr. Pepper seems to cry out to your pancreas, begging to induce type 2 diabetes. Feel your very colon quiver and scream as you stroll by the wall of frozen Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage biscuits. Woe is your body and your spirit in this savage, toxic wasteland.
Remember that news item from last year about that insanely manic Pokemon cartoon that induced epileptic fits in all those Japanese kids? Too many bright flashing lights. Too much screaming color. Too much artificial everything. The spirit, the soul, the body, they can handle only so much. Especially if said mind/body/spirit have been at all retuned, awareness-raised, karmic-pain-threshold lowered.
I deem it Supermarket Syndrome. It is what happens when you spend increasing amounts of your grocery-shopping time in local natural markets, farmer’s markets, Whole Foods or (here in S.F.) Rainbow Grocery, or in any of a thousand smaller health marts around town – and don’t give me the you’re-an-elitist, I-can’t-afford-that-stuff argument, because there are plenty of cheap farmer’s markets and healthy grocery stores right now, places full of quiet lighting and healthy grains and organic produce and friendly service and foods that don’t have, as their first ingredient, imminent death, or refined sugar, or high-fructose corn syrup, or Bright Flaming Red No. 3, or Known Cancerous Substance No. 4, or Raging Obesity-Related Heart Disease No. 11.
They are places, in other words, where you walk in and spend an hour of your life and it immediately feels, you know, different. Better. Healthier. Lighter. More natural. And you walk out and you go, hey, wow, check it out: no searing headache.
And when you shop in these places for a while, an amazing thing happens: your body changes. Your senses recalibrate. You calm down. Equilibrium returns. You note all the pronounceable ingredients. You note that there aren’t endless arrays of garbage foods, most of them marketed to children and every single one sealed in hideous molded plastic tubs containing more packaging than foodstuff. And you note the people, the customers, seem less, I don’t know, dazed? Overwhelmed? Drugged?
And then, when you least expect it, you find yourself in some situation or in some town with no other grocery options and you innocently walk back into Safeway to try to buy some organic hormone-free eggs (ha-ha yeah right good luck) – and WHAM. Sensory overload. Low-vibration overload. You get what in meditation circles they would call whacked, slapped upside the spirit by dank, malicious energy. Supermarket Syndrome.
Pork-like sausage in a can. Cool Whip with enough high-fructose corn syrup to caulk your driveway. Creepy chicken-flavored sauce packets, ten to a box. Precut celery. Precut cookie dough. Precut everything because you’re too lazy to handle a knife. Nabisco honey-flavored Teddy Grahams shaped like Dora the Explorer. Dawn Wash & Toss. Crustless white bread of sufficient consistency to plug Hoover Dam.
We are amazing beings, we bipeds. We adapt. We can endure the most unlivable crap and the most unhealthy exposure and think it’s completely fine and normal.
Normal, that is, until we take one step away from it and spend a little time outside a given teeming cauldron of low-vibrational culture, and then when we happen to step back in for a second, we can only go Oh my freaking God how in the hell did I ever do this? How did I ever live here eat this drink that lick those shop here wear that date her consume this believe that?
Remember how when you were a little kid and you drank gallons of pasteurized two-percent milk with your Oreos and you thought it was amazing and good? And then when you reached adulthood you (hopefully) got away from that nasty stuff and maybe switched to nonfat or even (hopefully) soy or almond or rice milk because you learned that milk is for babies and besides, those sad cows are pretty much bathed in noxious hormones and chemicals from birth? Remember?
And then one day you just so happened to be handed a glass of old-school milk and you remembered your happy childhood, so you took a big swig and almost gagged because it tasted like thick liquid phlegm and you were like, “Oh my God, how the hell did I ever drink this crap?” Supermarket Syndrome is exactly like that, except with buildings.
And yes, it really is vibrational. And yes, your body can actually feel it, feel the violent lack of positive energy in all that processed crap, feel it deep down, where the meanings are, and if you’ve ever walked out of Safeway or Best Buy or Wal-Mart feeling oddly soiled and grimy and vaguely depressed, if not outright sick to your stomach, you know exactly what I mean.
Blue ketchup. Peanut-butter yogurt with little plastic dome-tops full of chocolate sprinkles and M&M’s and freeze-dried, strawberry-like lumps. Sugar-free SnackWell’s cookies featuring GMO wheat and eight pounds per square bite of cancer-happy sucralose and aspartame. Velveeta. Kraft “Shrek”-shaped Cheese Nips featuring enough thiamine mononitrate and disodium phosphate and partially hydrogenated oil and outright brain-cramping MSG to kill, well, Shrek.
We are surrounded. We are immersed. American consumer culture is teeming with so many neon-colored, overprocessed, semicomestible, demon-spawn products we can no longer even recognize how bad it is, how it is all meant to drive us slowly insane, so slowly we forget to keep asking why we feel so sick all the time, and we just shut the hell up and buy more giant tubs of Country Crock to go with our liquefied reconstituted pork tubes because we think this is the only way.
Of course, it’s not. The solution is easy. Get your flesh happy. Get the hell out of Safeway and Albertsons and the big-box stores that only want to pummel your sense of humanity and joy and suck your soul through your eyeballs.
Hie thee to local markets, organic places, natural foods, small grocery stores staffed by people who do not seem to be secretly mapping out ways to dismember your children as they ring up your groceries. Do not underestimate the effect this form of simple escape and recalibration can have on your overall sense of well-being and hope. It is not too late. The rice milk is waiting.
Mark Morford, SF Gate