fooddemo

Post Traumatic Food Demo Disorder

Central Market is my favorite grocery store. It’s where I do most, if not all, of my grocery shopping. The experience of shopping at this store is similar to the one you’d find at Ikea. They have an entry point that winds itself throughout the store, providing short cuts if you’re simply there to get a particular item. Some of the things that are equally alluring and anxiety inducing are the many food demos that they have set up throughout the day. For people like me, they are land mines disguised as an oasis of curiosity.
To be honest, there is nothing more satisfying than experiencing new products, especially when it’s food, extra especially when it’s free. Unattended sample trays are the best examples of this. The keyword is unattended. I often help myself to bread, fruit, or whatever else I can possibly fit on a toothpick. It’s like a miniature kebob of goodness. It is at these unattended sample trays that I have the option to sample one item or go full Katrina victim on many, without the pressure or superficiality of having an employee describe or try to sell me what it is I’ve chosen to eat. Central Market, however, offers a more personable experience. They have attended demos all over the store. In one stretch, they have three tables in a row. It’s the gauntlet of small talk and fabricated interest.
Many years ago, when I started my humble observations, I wrote about my disdain for small talk. I wish I could say that I have come off of that position, but I have doubts that I ever will. Live demos are the yellow brick road to the Oz of unwanted conversation. The juxtaposition is that the live demos are where the samples become real. It’s the equivalent of finding a bag of thousands of dollars in an empty parking lot surrounded by cameras. It’s the forbidden fruit in the hand of Adam (which should have just been called a vegetable – he would have never eaten it). It’s the ultimate battle ground of good (the best samples) vs. evil (small talk).

Similar to burning your hand on an iron, I know that stopping at one of these demos has its consequences. There are no free rides. If you eat from the hand that feeds you, then you’ll have to pretend that you’re there for more than free food. As I navigate past these stations, I have to keep reminding myself of this. It’s the modern day Medusa. If I look, I’ll want. If I want, I’ll either have to advance the dialogue or make things awkward, more than likely the latter.

I know that demo employees are there to be personable and provide information. In theory, they are not the problem. I am. I wouldn’t look for advice at my local drug deal. I’m honestly just there to get my drugs (I’m drug free, mom). In the same way, I don’t want to pretend that I’m interested in buying the cracker with spread, unless, of course, it’s the best thing in the world. If that happens to be the case, then I would probably buy it anyway. Chances are, it’s not. Chances are, it’s good enough to walk away from. And I hate being seen as that guy who goes from station to station getting fat, even though I know deep down that I am that guy.

Ultimately, the interaction comes down to this:

Demo person: “Hi, would you like to try ______ today?”
Me: “Sure.”
Demo person: [Charlie brown teacher speak]
Me: (Thinking about how I can bail out)
Me: “Wow, that’s really good.” (obligatory)
Demo person: [Charlie Brown teacher speak]
Me: “Great, I’ll definitely keep that in mind.” (No, I won’t)

I have never spent time with a prostitute, but I imagine I’d walk away with the same feelings of insincerity and guilt that I feel after pretending to be interested in a demo product. [And this is what's great about my blog. I'm the only one in the world who can correlate demo people with prostitution] I know I shouldn’t feel guilty, but I do. I doubt normal people build up a battering ram of insincerity before walking up and grabbing a cracker to begin with, however, I recognize the Intermittent Explosive Device of social awkwardness way before I turn the corner. Like the plenitude of internet spam, I prescribe to the theory that the best offense is a great defense. I value sincerity, which is why I’m not great with the concept of insincerity. Ultimately, that has shaped my platform of small talk. It’s a weakness that sometimes limits the finer things in life, advanced food demos being one of them.

My name is Justin. (Hi, Justin.) I have Post Traumatic Sample Disorder.

  • Stephanie

    I love your analogies.