a food city field trip

On Sunday, I took a field trip to the Food City in South Tucson: The Pueblo Within A City. I didn’t make that tagline up: the incorporated city has it on its website, suggesting, as reputation would have it, that South Tucson is where one might go to practice her Spanish.

I went to Whole Foods last week to begin my October Unprocessed endeavor, and Food City seemed like its natural (or necessary) counterpart—an attempt to investigate or justify that unprocessed eating can be had on both ends of the spectrum. The Food City is on 6th just north of I-10 and Whole Foods is on Speedway and Country Club, which should tell you enough about their respective demographics. I arrived at Whole Foods at noon—the worst time of hunger to arrive at Whole Foods—and left at 1:30, wide-eyed and harried like I accidentally got sucked into an hour long phone conversation, and, in a way, I had, reading nutrition labels and ingredient lists and muttering, “What on earth is ascorbic acid?” (It is, incidentally, a “naturally occurring organic compound” and, as high school chemistry taught me long ago, simply another name for vitamin C). The Whole Foods on Speedway is not one of those expansive theme-park Whole Foods like the three-story monstrosity in Pasadena, but rather more like a natural foods co-op should be, with cramped aisles and nooks and crannies holding displays of prickly pear jelly, and so, harry and hunger aside, it was an enjoyable (and expensive) time spent rummaging through its goods.

I went to Food City on Sunday evening and parked in front of a booming blue FOOD CITY sign spread over a broad storefront. There are no hand-held baskets, just oversized shopping carts, and the store is a hodge-podge assortment of Spanish-language packaging alongside Cheerios; glass-bottles of Mexican cola alongside plastic bottles of diet coke.

As it turns out, Food City was a much better find for my unprocessed venture. They sell tamarind sugar—literally lumps of dark, wet sugarcane—and dried jamaica hibiscus flowers to make jamaica tea and fresh tortillas made at the in-house tortilleria and containing only lard and flour and salt and water. They also sell cocada, the soft coconut candy that I fell in love with in Brazil, and chicharrón—the fried pork rinds that I did not fall in love with in Nicaragua but whose call pervaded every bus ride and market trip (chicharooooooone).

The produce section has a lot of produce but not a lot of variety: mangos and persimmons and a giant pile of tomatoes from Mexico. The displays throughout the store are similarly bulk-scaled and organized helter-skelter: a large median in the frozen foods aisle held overflow stocks of salsas and tomatillo sauces. If the aisles of Whole Foods feel like a homey and perfectly cluttered antique store—a lot of different products but only a few of each—then the displays at Food City are like jumbo lego blocks, seemingly interchangeable within the store’s design.

I spent far less money at Food City than I did at Whole Foods, and now my fridge displays an amusing convergence of the two food systems. At Food City, one may not choose between white eggs or brown eggs or eggs birthed by “organic hens fed 100% organic vegetarian diets.” They just have huevos grandes. 

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