Grocery shopping can be an interesting experience. I actually enjoy shopping for food. The interesting thing is I spend the most time in the produce and fruit section of a grocery store, but it’s at the meat counter where people come up to me with comments. It’s been that way for years because folks recognize me as someone who they think knows a lot about food and farming.
I was holding up a $24 T-bone steak the other day to see how much it cost per kg when a guy walks over to me and says, “Canada should get rid of supply management and maybe we could afford to eat beef.” He was a bit surprised when I told him beef and pork are not supply managed in Canada but chicken and turkeys are.
I wasn’t surprised by the man’s lack of knowledge of Canada’s supply-managed farm commodities. An Angus Reid Institute survey of Canadians last year revealed some interesting facts. The survey questionnaire asked respondents about the basics of how supply management works and what products it controls.
Most are largely unaware of the detailed components of supply management. Just four per cent said they know “a lot” about the policy, while 58 per cent said they know nothing about it at all. Most were unable to accurately choose which products are regulated under the system — and even among those who said they know a lot about it, one-in-three said beef and pork are included. Beef and pork are not included.
Over the past 31 years, I have written many columns on Canada’s supply-management system. And I come across people all the time who think chicken is not supply managed because chicken is so much cheaper per pound than beef or pork.
Canada’s supply management system encompasses five types of products: Dairy, chicken, turkey, table eggs, and broiler hatching eggs.
Not all conversations at the meat counter are serious. Sometimes they are downright funny. Thanksgiving Day is right around the corner, so folks will be buying a frozen turkey or a ham for the big feast day. I get a chuckle from people who think the best turkey or the finest packages of bacon are way down in the bin and never at the top. They dig into the cooler bins to find the perfect size or bacon with the least amount of fat.
This past Easter, there was a woman rooting around in the ham cooler. I stood by and watched to see if there happened to be a smaller ham. She was doing a noble job moving the hams around. She glanced up and I told her if I saw a smaller-size ham and she didn’t take it out, I might grab it.
“I’m looking for a medium-size ham,” she responded. “And they all look like they’re extra-large.”
“Yes,” I said. “It seems the stores think that every family is large with 10 or 12 kids like they had a century ago. They think one size ham fits everyone. And you can’t freeze leftover ham because it goes watery.”
She agreed with that and told of a humourous incident of buying a ham that was too big for her pot. We chuckled. “Why couldn’t the stores cut these giant hams in half or in threes?” I said.
“It’s probably because of the big bone in them and they are big,” she said and then gasps and puts her hands up to her mouth. We stood there and laughed and if that wasn’t funny enough, a young woman over at the frozen turkey bin nearby comes over and says to the woman, “Excuse me, can I borrow your husband for a second? I can’t lift the turkey out of the bin and I need a pair of strong hands.”
It was hilarious. The woman thought we were a married couple. She in her 40s, me almost 70. Married couples conversing and laughing when checking out hams? I don’t think so.
“We’re not married,” says the ham hunter with a laugh. “We just met,” I retorted. “Here at the hams.”
The turkey shopper saw us as a friendly pair. She just wanted the monster bird in her cart. Maybe she had 10 or 12 kids to feed, or was having lots of company over. It was a heavy one.
Have a blessed Thanksgiving!
Maynard van der Galien has been writing weekly and monthly columns for 31 years.