My Dad and I (Julia Schemmer / HS Insider).


What my Dad’s grocery store trips taught me about policymaking

Growing up, my Dad and I had an unconventional bonding place: the grocery store. Our neighborhood store had a dining area attached to it, and we would spend late summer nights reading the kiosk magazines, sipping soft drinks and spending time with each other. Not only that, but when you have six kids and two…
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Julia Schemmer

April 20, 2017

Growing up, my Dad and I had an unconventional bonding place: the grocery store. Our neighborhood store had a dining area attached to it, and we would spend late summer nights reading the kiosk magazines, sipping soft drinks and spending time with each other. Not only that, but when you have six kids and two parents, there is an inevitable and unceasing need to frequently stop at the grocery store for life’s little mishaps, and of course, the infamous midnight snacks.

As a result, I began to notice intentional things my father exemplified during our daily grocery store adventures, lessons that now carry me as a sophomore in college studying Public Policy. Although my days are spent in a classroom and school vacations tend to be the only chance I get to do our beloved grocery store runs again, I look back at our times running through the aisles with fondness. Although I would have never expected it, my Dad’s grocery trip stores taught me important lessons about policymaking. Check them out here:

  1. Know people’s names and take time to have conversations with them. My Dad could tell you the name of every cashier and manager within the grocery stores we visited, not just because of how much time we spent at the store, but because he cared. While they were bagging our groceries, my Dad would take the time to find ways to make them smile. He learned about their family, their education, their passions, and what brought them to working at a grocery store. Sometimes, he would even pick cashiers that looked like they were having a bad day, so he could make them laugh or brighten their day a bit.

Grocery stories are often paralleled with a sense of convenience, as people buy the things they need, pay in the express lane, and rush down the 91 freeway home. Yet, the express lane does not win hearts or change lives. I began to reflect on how often I race through the motions, passing by the custodians that clean my campus to make it a positive place to learn, the baristas who satisfy my caffeine-dependent soul, and even my peers who rubbed elbows with me in over-crowded lecture halls. If I want to make policies that support various communities, why am I not doing the bare minimum and taking the time to see one’s humanity through a simple “hello, how are you doing?”

My Dad taught me that conversations matter. If I don’t know the name of the janitor but can name the entire California State Assembly, surely my priorities are not in line. In a world of globalized digital technology enthralling users with countless ways to stay passively connected through a screen, it is an act of revolutionary defiance to remain engaged and involved by seeing one another, memorizing people’s names and valuing the work that they are doing.

  1. Always shop at the most random hours possible. I typically do my grocery shopping at night, when I’m done with the school day and my job. Going to the grocery store at 9 AM on a Monday morning is vastly different than shopping at 11 PM. There’s an entirely new crowd of people, different atmospheres and energies surrounding the room, and sometimes, depending on the hour you go, completely different line lengths.

Just like stopping to speak to the employees of the grocery store, it’s important to take in the environment that you are surrounded in. I am a bit of a people-watcher, and I like to see the variety of different people who are shopping alongside me. There’s the mom holding her baby in one hand and putting vegetables in the cart with the other, like the single-handed superhero she is. There’s the college student, trying to see how many microwavable pizza rolls he can live off of while coupon-clipping to save some cash. There’s the group of best friends, who excitedly put together their favorite snacks, giggling in excitement for their next adventure.

Consciousness of the environment and the way it experiences shifts is immensely important to the change-making process. Between my classes, I love walking around campus and taking it all in – the smell of the citrus, the sight of the Belltower, and the various student groups tabling about their organization. In the morning, the campus will seem barely awake – with only the hustle and bustle of workers preparing for their day and students rocking their bedhead on the way to their early morning lecture. In the afternoon, excitement will pick up as students crowd the tables and lawns to eat lunch, hold programming and events with each other, and do last-minute studying. In the evening, as the sun sets and the chilly breezes begin, the excitement falls, the stores close, and all around the campus is a feeling of contentment and peace.

The thing is, if we don’t take time to stop and smell the roses, we will never realize how the roses are actually doing. Perhaps they are wilting and needing extra nutrients to make them whole again. Maybe they’re flourishing, and need to be celebrated and affirmed of their growth. Environments changed when introduced to different stimuli, whether it’s the time of day, the national headlines, the executive orders, and the election results. Be in tune with how environments shift, and how the organisms within the environment either adapt or resist to such changes.

  1. Try everything. If you take the time to go through each aisle, you can usually find some pretty interesting products. My Dad would often take the time to try these products, and see how they would taste. As someone who was his loyal taste-testing companion, I can attest that perhaps maple-flavored potato chips were not the best corporate product, but there have been multiple foods that I fell in love with as a result of my Dad’s curiosity.

Take Pocky for example. Growing up in a predominately white neighborhood, where the idea of authentic Asian food was Panda Express, I didn’t have access to a lot of various cultural foods. One day at the store, my Dad decided to buy Pocky, which is a Japanese snack consisting of chocolate-covered biscuit sticks. After trying it, I loved it so much that it inspired me to branch out and be open to different foods.

It can be scary to try new things. It doesn’t always work out the way we want it to. Sometimes we’re left wondering why we spent our money on a product that end up making us gag inside. But, in those rare moments where we find something we love, suddenly all the other grocery store flops are overlooked. It becomes something special, an internal revelation where you wonder how you went this long without it.

In an increasingly turbulent America, we need more people willing to try the jalapeno-flavored almonds, the maple-infused chips and the cotton-candy flavored Oreos. We need creative solutions for complex issues, and it’s not going to be done by turning away our nose in disgust at an option we never thought intentionally about.  I want to hear policy solutions from college students to established think tanks, and provide forums for everyone to think critically about the issue and use their lived experiences to provide feedback on what they think should be doing.

Because let’s be honest, plain flavored Lays gets old with enough time.

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