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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Sticker shock

BY Sonny Orr Mar 16, 2024

The flock of geese, majestic and noisy, flew over the southern farms and started heading north. Then suddenly, they headed back south before flying north again. What is going on? 

To the untrained eye, it’s still winter and the geese just don’t appear to know that right now. The early-spring (late-winter?) rain fooled them and just about everyone else into thinking that winter was over. But winter decided to stick around a little longer. What else is new?

I see that shopping in the south is now costing even more than back home. Except for the vegetables, that is – they have a short shelf life after hanging around the south before being transported thousands of kilometres to our limited shelf space. 

Once in the fresh vegetable bin at the store, the price really does shock you into a whimpering fool. Then you silently buy frozen and canned vegetables, hoping that no one notices, until you see other shoppers doing the same. 

This also validates your purchases of longer-lasting processed foods while hoping that the bread makers loaded up on extra chemical preservatives to ward off anything that turns the bread green.

Not that long ago, a real meat-eating individual lamented over an apparently large display of fresh vegetables, calling it “white man’s food”. I was disturbed by his anguish, and I had to teach him that this was not non-Native food he was crying about. The corn, the squash, the tomato, the oranges were all First Nations food and since the last century are now mass produced to feed the world. Likewise, the cod, the salmon and other foods were also Indigenous. Quietly, the complainer stated that he didn’t know those facts. 

Then he complained about the chicken pizza baloney, all pastas and beef patties, which happen to be our favourite foods. Why should we eat it, he asked, much less buy it? That’s a more legitimate question.

I ended up going to the toiletries section to get away from the whining food critic. Why couldn’t he complain about the price instead, which is a real problem up here. 

I shop very cautiously and compare every price. Is the $48 kilogram of ground beef really that necessary to complement the sauce in our holiest and undisputed champion of favourite foods – spaghetti? It is getting priced out of the average kitchen dinner menu. No, just make the sauce a little thinner. And the pasta, well, use the whole box instead of trying to save a few noodles. It’s better off in the stomach anyways.

Lately, while shopping in the south, the search for local flyers and sales are important activities. Read them with the consumer reviews on social media to find the right price at the right place and the right time when your bank account is a financial nightmare. 

Luckily for me, luck is all that’s left when it comes to battling sticker shock. The only cure for that is a double dose of sale-priced items and a slightly bigger bulge in the bank account.

Now, for anything to do with travel and pricing, the best bet is to use a discreet vehicle that doesn’t scream Steal Me! in a discount shopping mall parking lot. Make sure you always leave at least one large nephew in the front seat to ward off any thieves who are looking to smash your side window and walk away with that shopping bag you just placed out of sight (or so you thought). 

Yes, it is pricy everywhere. But that lack of discount foods and clothing, or just about anything basic in life, has made many people desperate in the south. They do not have large extended family and friend relationships that we do in our communities. Thank God for family and friends who will help you out in times of distress. 

So, shop carefully folks. Signing out from an overpriced territory, I remain deeply discounted.

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Sonny Orr is Cree from Chisasibi, and has been a columnist for the Nation for over 20 years. He regularly pens Rez Notes from the cozy social club in Whapmagoostui where he resides.