Tag Archives: Halloween

Grocery Voyeurism (New Episode)

It’s been a while since we’ve visited this topic, or the topic of food in general, but I didn’t stop being a grocery voyeur, nor did I stop being interested in (and eating) food.

To refresh your memory, grocery voyeurism involves observing the items the person in front of you is buying in the express checkout lane, and making up stories about it.  You should try it.  It’s fun.  So say the person has a dozen eggs and a can of spray furniture polish.  Okay, you are having guests over and need to polish the dining room table, and you are baking a cake for dessert.  There are many alternate theories here.

I started this because standing in line, even a short one, makes me crazy.  If there is more than one person ahead of me, I read a book.

One day last week I was in line behind an older Asian lady who had four items:  a container of grapes (half red, half white), a container of cookies from the bakery, one parsnip, and one mystery vegetable the cashier didn’t recognize.  Me neither.  So the cashier asks the customer, What is this?  And the Asian lady shrugs and says she doesn’t know.  You don’t know?  Okay, wait a minute.  Let me get this straight.

It instantly brought to mind all the stereotypes about Asian cooking you have ever heard.  Like we don’t know what this is, but let’s see if we can eat it.  We will put it in a soup and see what happens.  If you keel over and die while clutching your throat, we can assume it’s poisonous.  Although maybe not, if we cooked it a different way, a la puffer fish.

In all fairness, it looked like some sort of root vegetable.  It was almost round, and vaguely purplish.  So you could assume that you could roast it or slice it and put it in…a soup, like a carrot.  Apparently the cashiers have pictures of food on their cash registers, so while the cashier is scanning those, I offered helpfully, “Is it a turnip?”  I knew that wasn’t right, but it sort of looked like a turnip that was the wrong size and shape.

The cashier is unsuccessful and is about to call a manager when the cashier in the other lane just behind her says, it’s a rutabaga!  “Our” cashier checks her screen again just to be sure, and sure enough, that’s what it was.  Now we all know.  Me, the cashier, and the customer who bought it.

Looking back, I now think the customer did know what it was, but didn’t know the English name for it.  So she didn’t mean that she didn’t know what it was, she just didn’t know how to tell the cashier what it was.  And over a small thing such as this, this is how cultural biases and prejudices start.  You know, “They” eat weird stuff.  “They” are not like “Us”.

People say that music is the Universal Language.  Probably so.  But so is food.  It may create barriers in some cases, but mostly, I think, it breaks them down. There is some sort of craving we have as humans to connect.  We are willing to share “their” food, and offer “ours”, because whatever our differences, we do share a universal need for food.

And now after all that uncharactistic profundity, let’s examine the humble rutabaga.  First of all, I was kind of right!  It’s more or less a kind of turnip, thought to be a hybrid between a turnip and a cabbage.   A couple of its other names are swede (or Swedish turnip) and yellow turnip.  (They are yellow in the inside.)

The two following photos are from Wikipedia.

A herd of rutabagas

One of the most interesting things about rutabagas is that in Ireland and Scotland, it isn’t pumpkins, it’s turnips (or rutabagas) that are used as “jack-0-lanterns”.  Frankly, if I were an evil spirit, I would be warded off too by the carving below.