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The Banana Flashback

Posted on Friday, June 5th, 2020

Dave!When I was a kid, we'd climb into our big Chevy Blazer each month after payday and head into the nearby Big City for dinner out (hopefully at Pizza Inn, my favorite)... then head to Prairie Market for groceries.

Prairie Market doesn't exist any more (neither does Pizza Inn, at least not here), but it was a discount warehouse grocer from the 60's which was most notable for all the inexpensive generic foods they sold. Black and white boxes. Black and white labels on cans and bottles. Black and white signs on the big bulk food bins. It was nothing like the "generic" foods sold today, which are essentially re-branded in-house store brands, these were generic-generic. And it all came rushing back to me when I removed the sleeve from my tub of Feta Cheese and saw this...

The lid of a tub of feta cheese which says CRUMBLED FETA CHEESE - KEEP REFRIGERATED on top in generic black lettering.

All of a sudden I was 4th grade again.

Just like shopping for groceries today, nothing at Prairie Market had prices on it. But unlike today, where things are rung up by their UPC bar code, at Prairie Market you grabbed a grease pencil and wrote the price on every item. My mom would pick out what she wanted. My dad would write the price on it with his impeccably perfect handwriting, then my brother and I would stack it on the giant slab cart (like you find at Home Depot) before heading to the next item.

It was a really smart way to shop, because the food was just as good as the name-brands you could buy (probably because the name-brand companies manufactured it) but cheaper because every aspect of the experience was done as cheaply as possible. In addition to not paying to price-sticker stuff, they didn't stock anything on the shelves. They just cut the face off the case and threw it on a rack. There were checkers to ring you up, but they had to key-in every item. And they were fast. You bagged your own groceries, of course (in real paper bags, natch).

I don't remember when Prairie Market closed. I think in the late 70's or early 80's maybe? Probably when all the grocery chains started consolidating and developed their own name-brand alternatives. And UPC code scanners came along.

The giant cement building that Prairie Market built is now a toy store-slash-sporting goods store. I shop there once or twice a year, and I'm able to remember exactly how it used to be every time. The ghost of all those generic packages still haunt me.

As do the banana chips.

One hot summer day we ended up buying a big bag of dried bulk banana chips. Then my brother and I ate them all the way back home. In a hot car. For twenty minutes. Not long after we pulled into the driveway I was puking my guts out and everything tasted... and smelled... like bananas to me for days. It was years before I could eat banana chips again. And I still can't eat them alone, even to this day. Only if they're scattered in a trail mix or something. And even then I have unpleasant flashbacks.

If only food prices were as cheap now as they were at Prairie Market back then.

Holy crap are things expensive now. Even when adjusted for inflation, food in 1970's was crazy cheap compared to today. Vegetables for 15¢ to 20¢ a can? I think only meat and dairy are cheaper now (with adjusted pricing) than they used to be... and that's thanks to government subsidies artificially making them cheaper. Without it, I'm sure they'd have massive price tags like everything else.

But, hey, the packaging is prettier, so there's that.

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