Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
Every now and then I have one of those moments when I realize just how much life has changed since my conversion. One such occasion occurred earlier this week when I made a trip to Whole Foods.
It was a spontaneous decision, based on vague positive associations of the organic foods chain rather than any kind of rational thought process. You see, the last time I had been in a Whole Foods was back when I had one child and lived downtown, a short walk from the flagship location. I have these fond memories of relaxing strolls down to the store with the baby in the sling, picking up one bag’s worth of food that would feed my whole family, not even glancing at the receipt because I still had the budget to make statements like, “Healthful, organic food is worth any price!” And so when I realized that I was going to be driving by a Whole Foods after some morning errands with the kids, I thought it might be fun to stop by.
As soon I neared the store, I recalled that while it has been a few years since I’ve been inside a Whole Foods, it has been even longer since I have parked at a Whole Foods. It seems that when John Mackey founded this store, he had a Darwinian vision that each location’s parking lot would have about one-third as many spaces as it actually needs, so that only the fittest customers would be able to enter. And the bumper stickers! After a few passes through the rows of cars, I’d read an entire manifesto on health care, women’s empowerment, environmentalism, gay rights, animal rights, and gay animal rights. (If car manufacturers are looking for a way to boost sales, I recommend the Austin: a compact hybrid vehicle with two bumpers, for the customer who has more opinions than a normal car can handle.)
I managed to find a parking spot, which was a small miracle considering that I had arrived during the lunchtime rush. It was like a scene from a B movie, where the mothership had landed and was calling everyone home. Throngs of people were pouring out of adjoining parking lots, coming out from behind trees and parked cars to drift toward the building.
My first hint that this was going to be very different from my usual suburban shopping experience was when I started pulling kids out of the car, only to realize that there were no cart return stations nearby—none in the entire parking lot, in fact. This was a problem. Getting the kids through that parking lot made me feel like I was playing a real-life version of that old Atari game Frogger, except with a malfunctioning joystick that made the frogs whine and bolt in random directions instead of doing what I wanted them to do.
Once we made it safely inside, I felt momentary relief. Wiping the sweat off my forehead, I was thankful that Whole Foods is not so serious about all that environmentalism stuff that they can’t look the other way when it comes to a few gazillion kilowatts of air conditioning to keep the inside crisp and cool on a 103-degree day. But, alas, my joy was to be short-lived. I stuffed as many kids as possible into one of the store’s miniature carts and told my other children to stay right by me, but as soon as we headed down the first aisle I could see that this was not going to work. The aisles at Whole Foods are wide enough for perhaps two very thin customers to stand shoulder-to-shoulder; this is in stark contrast to our usual grocery store, where the kids can swing from the sides of the cart like a merry band of mutinous pirates without hitting anything. The items on the shelves passed just centimeters from the kids’ faces as we inched through the crowded store. Other customers knew where we were at any moment as the sounds of me hissing “Don’t touch!” slowly moved from one place to another.
We got stuck in a logjam near the meat section and I picked up a package of delicious-looking bacon, only to discover that it was in fact made of soy. I stared at it with a wry smile, remembering the time when I was a vegetarian and I convinced my Texan husband to try some of this imitation bacon, secretly thinking that this might just tempt him to give up meat himself. After frying some up, I took a bite and was quite startled. It was really not very good. At all. I glanced at my husband, who looked downright traumatized by the assault on his tastebuds. He gazed off into the distance and said softly, “I could cut off my tongue, but I could never erase this taste from my mind’s tongue.” He maintains that he has never tasted anything worse to this day.
My trip down the soy bacon version of memory lane was interrupted, however, when I heard an ominous banging sound. I turned to see that my three-year-old had lifted a small box of cookies off of a nearby display and was vigorously shaking it. I took the box from her, knowing we’d have to buy it since they were now ruined. The price wasn’t on the front, but I could tell it wasn’t going to be good. These were organic, allergen-free cookies. Hand-decorated. By a local artist with two accents in her first name alone. I braced myself to see what this container of six cookies was going to set me back, then finally dared to look: $10.50.
It was time to go.
By the time we were half way to the front, my alternating cries of “Excuse me,” and “Don’t touch!” had gotten so shrill that people were jumping right out of my way. We made it to the checkout, and I placed the box of what used to be cookies on the conveyor belt, along with a few other items I’d picked up along the way.
“Do you have your own bags?” the checker asked.
I glanced behind me and to each side to see that every other person had come with his or her own canvas grocery bags. I was tempted to lean into it and announce, “No! And I want you to triple-bag each item individually, as I am in a contest with another big Catholic family to see how much landfill space we can take up!” but this was no time for jokes. I sheepishly asked for plastic bags and got out of there as quickly as possible.
Back outside, a silver Lexus crept about four feet behind me as I made my way to my car at the back of the parking lot. I wondered if he had the same sinking feeling I did when he realized that I was going to have to strap each and every one of these kids into car seats, most of them in five-point harnesses. With the sun beating down on my back, the temperature now at 105, I maneuvered each kid into his or her seat, feeling like I was stuck in a reality show called something like Top Housewife or SurvivorMom.
I pulled out of our parking space, leaving the Lexus to fight it out with a Prius that had swooped in to try to steal the spot. As I headed up the highway into the suburban sprawl, I realized that my family is too big and we’re too broke for me to shop at Whole Foods anymore. And once we got home, I’d cooled off, and the kids got to sit down and enjoy a box of ten-dollar cookie crumbs, I realized that’s okay with me.