Food choices and preferences add to a person’s complex identity. Yet, something I’ve recently discovered is that a large part of identity can come from not what you eat, but where you buy your food. Take Trader Joe’s and ALDI. Both of these establishments are owned by the same company, but cater to very different audiences. The stores cater to different demographics of people and therefore the overarching company alters the brands of each of the stores. Consider the people who assist you at the checkout line in Trader Joe’s. What kind of persona do they represent? Based on past experience, the cashiers I come across in Trader Joe’s are interested in sustainable, healthy foods and could be classified as “hipster”, or part of an alternative lifestyle that is not considered mainstream. By shopping at Trader Joe’s, consumers are participating in a process of branding themselves with the personas the store and it’s employees exhibit. I walk into Trader Joe’s and look for the most inexpensive foods I can find because by shopping at that establishment, I believe I am participating in the brand the store creates. One of healthy and sustainable eating. It doesn’t matter if I have to buy the cheaper option on the shelf. It may not be this way for everyone, but as a patron of Trader Joe’s I am not only buying the healthy foods the store stocks, I’m also hoping to buy a slice of the identity associated with the store’s brand. I am a consumer of not just organic produce but of an alternative identity as well.
Where we buy our food says a lot about consumer culture in America, and how in a way most establishments are selling some form of identity, not just tangible consumer goods. Even though Trader Joe’s and ALDI are owned by the same company, their store brands couldn’t be more different. One advocates for healthy, organic food in tune with the recent food movements of the middle class (see discussion on Slow Food Movement). However, this movement isn’t possible for groups of people who do not have the economic resources to buy local and organic foods. Hence, brands like ALDI are available to advocate low prices. People shop at Trader Joe’s for its brand, while some might argue that other groups of people shop at ALDI out of necessity. It is not my intention to decide if this is alright or not, but simply to show how many ways society can divide people, particularly through brands that advocate consumer desire verses consumer necessity, and how it affects identity.