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Friday, April 6, 2007


I told Mark that it’d take a lot to pry me loose from my old neighborhood, the Upper West Side. I was in love with my supermarket.

I first encountered Fairway when I moved there, over ten years ago. There was hay on the floors, and a generous assortment fresh produce and specialty foods.

Since then, Fairway has taken over the space next door and the space above. There’s much, much, much more of everything, and the hay is gone. They’re now open 24-7 and there are sections for organic foods, vitamins and a café.

There’s also a cheese area, a coffee area, a pre-made meal area, a pickled foods area. There is a laughably slow elevator. At first glance, Fairway is like many high end specialty New York grocery stores (Citarella, Whole Foods, Garden of Eden, Dean and Deluca), where the feeling is decidedly New York: ‘you can get absolutely everything here’ or, ‘perhaps your eclectic palate cannot decide what it wants to eat tonight’.

Still, Fairway manages to retain its own personality. Perhaps it’s the signs that hang from ceiling in their stylized lettering and conversational tone. The prices are still reasonable. There is the whiff of invisible straw, as if the produce has been just sent from the farm. It is the feeling of authenticity.

Tonight I happened to be in the neighborhood and swung by for a few things. Since it’s Easter weekend, there was more than the usual mayhem. People were milling about on the sidewalk, choosing between strawberries and watermelon, pussy willows and lilies.

Inside, traffic was halted by little old ladies, gawking tourists and shopping carts. I picked up a container of mesclun and rounded the corner display of specialty olive oils. I was collecting ingredients for salad and my Bolognese sauce: tomatoes, onions, parsley, ground beef, celery, carrots, red wine.

Turning a corner, I encountered the meat display case, which showed fresh fish, pork chops, and the full carcass of a baby lamb lying on its side. Its legs of the lamb were stretched out, and all its skin had been peeled away. It was about the size of a large dog. The eyeballs were intact, greyed over and bulging. It wore a startled look.

I walked over for the ground beef and had to walk past the lamb again to get to the cashiers. I could not help but give the lamb another look. It seemed to ignore me. I was thinking, did Fairway actually call someone up to ask, ’Hi, we’d like the full body of a baby lamb, with the skin peeled off but the eyeballs left in.’ They could have simply posted a sign that read ‘Happy Easter. Fresh meat here.’ But no, they needed the baby lamb to convey the message.

I can understand (though not condone) the primal urge for sacrifice, in light of the holidays, however this was not a religious, symbolic sacrifice. This baby lamb was being wasted (and I am only assuming it will be wasted) as an advertisement. It was a Fairway billboard.

When I got home, I thought about it some more. Maybe the lamb is just another show of Fairway authenticity. Here is the animal that you are eating. This is its sacrifice every day, not just on holidays. Why am I so appalled, when I was intending to eat a creature anyway, whose minced flesh was wrapped in plastic and Styrofoam, categorized according to fat content?

Fairway will always be a part of me. I will revisit it in its many locations from now on. It’s provided me with so many things, at any time of day - vitamins, earthly delights, and now, learning lessons. I am a meat eater. I participate in the grand scheme of the planet. And I need to cut back on my red meat.