Anex for Alan Erdman

To read other essays previously published in written by Alan Erdman:

"The Supermarket Crisis Hotline"

By Alan Erdman

Availability of sin and the inevitablity of temptation

Are the magic ingredients in all excesses!

When you're out shopping for groceries, do you make a conscious effort to eat a healthy diet and deprive yourself of many of the mouth-watering foods you see in the TV commercials? Do you cook from scratch like people used to . . .or do you succumb to convenience and temptation, to live a life of gluttony and satiation?

With all that stress out there and the availability of fast food, millions of people do little cooking and "eat on the run"; doughnuts for breakfast, a burger and fries for lunch . . .maybe some fried chicken for dinner. Then the inevitable guilt sets in and a trip to the supermarket becomes almost a fanatical pilgrimage---like a visit to a health club---and the best of intentions may finally be uppermost in one's thoughts. But, the hassles and frustrations that people regularly deal with, from the problems at work to the difficulties in fighting traffic, make many feel so challenged to just survive emotionally, that even going to the store is a challenge in itself!

The unfortunate reality sets in soon after you place your hands upon a shopping cart and stare at the little ad in front of the basket. Like most people, you pick a cart at random. Each may have a different ad and those less fortunate may have chosen one sporting a seductive pitch for ice cream or cookies. Fortunately, you've chosen a cart with an ad for bath tissue, to enter the store armed with a list and the resolve to avoid the immoral and fattening barrage you are about to be subjected to.

An ad for bath tissue is a far cry from one that contains a more pointed suggestion for what might be purchased, and those staring at a luscious dessert are already at a terrible disadvantage, even before they enter the store. These unfortunates are now programmed to forget about "good intentions" and buy whatever the assault of advertising may condition them to desire! Most people entering a supermarket never think about these things and have apsolutely no idea of the realities that go beyond "shopping for groceries" as they begin a jouney through a psychological laboratory that might make Ivan Pavlov smile!

The effect of "bath tissue" on your subconscious is neutral and it is a little known fact that, by law, ten percent of shopping carts must carry a non-food message. The other ninety percent are simply loaded with suggestions as to what you should buy to enhance your enjoyment of evening television. And the people in the business of persuasion know exactly what they're doing...and know exactly how to do it!

The most interesting thing about food advertising is that it preys upon your weaknesses and the innate human desire for satiation. For many individuals, food is therapy and happiness directly proportional to the calories ingested. And that's why dietetic, low-fat and low-salt foods just don't taste and don't sell quite like "the real thing!" So, you've put your hands upon a cart that carries a little message of "a preferred food" and nothing begins the conditioning process quite like chocolate! The people who specialize in marketing psychology and supermarket layout are fully aware that Jane Fonda is an atypical example of human determination to avoid the ingestion of caloric foods. Most shoppers are rated on what is called The Malleability Index---also a little known standard outside the food retailing business. These mavens of marketing know the normal person prefers satiation to starvation and, with denial hardly an option, many are easy converts to what the food merchandisers want you to buy!

As you wheel the cart inside, perhaps staring at Rocky Road, or a mouth-watering picture of chocolate fudge---dripping and oozing oh so delectably it is almost a vision from a foodaholic's subconscious. An uncontrollable feeling of desire has been instilled and you're already trying to decide which size container to place into your cart...and you're now a captive audience!

In many a supermarket, there is a room located in back of the store and above the aisles that may appear as a little window to even the most perceptive of shoppers. Required by FIRM---the "Food Industry Retailing Management Foundation"---this little room is not the manager's office, as many curious people may think. Rather, it is a vantage point enabling a roving representative of FIRM to spy in secret on the shoppers and observe their behavior as they go through what is actually a well-designed psychological laboratory---a.k.a, the supermarket! So, as you wheel your cart through what is really "a minefield of stimuli," there may be someone watching through that little window and most shoppers never even consider that possibility.

At any time, on an unannounced basis, a representative of FIRM may be up there, sitting with clipboard and an "evaluation form," while peering through binoculars. These people randomly visit every supermarket in America to ensure that where you shop meets minimum industry standards and conforms to general guidelines of retailing psychology.

Sometimes this representative may be encountered, walking through the aisles and appearing to be a store employee, taking inventory. They are actually "checking all the little things," such as shelf placement of coupon machines, "impulse buy items" and the array of "wing stacks." Anything not up to snuff quickly gets written up and the store manager receives one copy, another goes to the district manager, while a third is sent to The Foundation!

So, as you push your cart down the aisles and through the store, you may have the healthiest of intentions---armed with a list that includes yogurt, fresh vegetables and brown rice. But, you're now embarking on an excursion through calorieland---forced to navigate from one end of the store to the other in what becomes an easily defeated attempt to survive a very difficult journey. This is a sojourn of helplessness through one of the most clever and compelling examples of behavioral conditioning known to man!

Few ever realize why "things are so" in a well laid-out supermarket, as they shop and compare items and prices, utterly oblivious to the obvious. Why are there fifteen different kinds of white rice asnd only one or two different packages of brown rice? Why are vegetables always at one end and beer at the other? Why are there so many different kinds of chips and why are the chips, candy and cookies in the middle of the store? The answers are simple---the store is laid out in this way for a very clever reason: to ensure that you must go through the entire store, regardless of what may be on your list! Nearly everyone wants veggies and "suds," so the arrangement is made to send you on a tour of everything else!

Frozen pies and desserts---man do they look good! And, unless you're one of those damned vegetarians, the meat department is one of the longest aisles in the store---with an endless array of steaks, chops and roasts. And they want you to find that cut of clear-packaged meat absolutely irresistible! So, when you go through the deli section, it's a test of your resolve to pass those delectable luncheon meats without reaching out and snagging a package...after all, you do want to cut down on those fast-food burgers, don't you? But, can you avoid the macaroni and potato salads as you reach for salami?

The two worst and most insidious areas are next---and you almost feel like the captain of a ship navigating a minefield in your journey through abundance. These areas are not only extremely bad for your waistline, they're almost impossible to ignore and not leave you salivating like a hungry beggar. And I'm talking about the aisle with all the candy bars and that eighty foot display of chips! This is where they've really got you---for only an aspiring IRA hunger striker would walk past these items without looking at the selections like most men admiring a good-looking woman, provocatively sashaying along and wearing a bit less than she ought to!

This is a genuine conspiracy, to force you into losing any remaining willpower and helplessly grabbing a bag of chips...or, better yet, several of them! These are treats devised by the most astute of food marketing professionals---part of a plot to enslave and render you incapable of resisting the temptation of becoming a consumer of non-nutritive snacks, expressly advertised as "something you must inevitably eat more than one of." In fact, they want you to eat the whole bag and the person who can pass all this without succumbing to the human weakness so adroitly exploited in this very aisle may be the ideal candidate to work in a health club!

Since most of us have will power some of the time, are hungry much of the time and stressed out nearly all the time, I propose something that might be of help to all of us in "our time of weakness"---a supermarket crisis hot-line! Things like this have already been done for the suicidal and the drug addicted, so in need of compassionate help. And, since we are foodaholics and desperately in need of help, something similar must be done for us---those without willpower and the ability "to say no to food." This may take legislation, or even an act of congress, but is something that definitely should become a reality. So, let's address a very real societal need. And all of you who privately admit to yourselves as having "temptations" that you cannot ignore---demons that you cannot control that look like cookies and ice cream---write your congressman and demand action!

We need a little booth, placed right in the middle of the supermarket---preferably near the potato chips and cookies---for us "to step into in our time of need!" This should be equipped with a toll-free 800 number that connects to a crisis hotline and puts us in touch with a professional specifically trained to deal with our problems.

There may be a very long line, but if you wait patiently and utilize all your resolve, perhaps you may even meet the person of your dreams standing right beside you and strike up a conversation leading to a long-term relationship based upon what you really have in common! After a slow and almost eternal wait, inching forward and fighting the kind of temptation that no preacher ever really seems to address, you finally step inside and close the door. A backward glance shows a long line of anxious people, desperate and hungry for more than a meal---including some affluent citizens dressed in formal business attire. No one is immune to temptation and these well-dressed people obviously need help, just as you, in controlling their girth and continuing to fit into the pants that may be as "relaxed" as the tailor can create.

You pick up the phone and wait. After a moment, a voice comes on the line and announces, "This is Richard at the county crisis may I help you?"

"I'm in a supermarket and I can't pass up the chips...I need help!"

"I see," is the measured reply, almost completely disassociated from the urgency of your situation. With just a hint of disbelief in the tone of voice, this may be the hundredth time today that a similar plea has been uttered.

You continue, "The sight of all those chips is driving me nuts!"

His reply is given in a calm and measured tone: "Do you have a problem with calories?"

You respond, "I want to lose ten pounds...and I have no willpower!"

The counselor says, "You mean you can't eat just a few of them and stop? That's what a bag clip is for---and they sell those, too..."

Desperately, you reply, "I really don't want any---and I need some support to make it past this section without feeling helpless!"

The voice says, "I have an exceptional reaction to the shopping experience. Most people end up resigned to buying a bag and eating half of it---or sharing it with someone."

You respond in an agitated manner, "I will be home alone tonight and that bag will be empty when I shut off the TV!"

At this point, the counselor realizes you have an extreme condition and he is sitting in front of a computer that has a number of options. He says, "I'm looking at the menu..."

Almost to the point of panic---knowing that, once you step outside this booth, "it's all over"---you shudder, "Did I hear you say menu?"

The counselor quickly realizes his inappropriate choice of words and replies, "I'm sorry...I am looking at the options that may be of help. There is a course at the local YMCA that meets this coming weekend---expressly structured for the problems you seem to have..."

You moan and implore, "But what good will that do me tonight?"

The counselor replies, "I'm sorry, but the only remaining courses open for tonight deal with drug and alcohol abuse. That's not your problem, it?"

Alan Erdman © 2007

© 2019 Wayne