Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Food Purchase Artifacts

Possessions from the past can stir all sorts of nostalgia in a person. Some people keep photo albums so they can look at the way they cut their hair 30 years ago and laugh at the style of glasses they favored. Other people keep boxes of clothes that they wore when they were in high school just so they can go through them once every decade or so and remember just what they were doing the first time they had that shirt on. And then there are those who have rooms filled with trophies and medals to remember their time in little league or other amateur sports teams.
What if the Rosetta Stone was just "eggs,
milk, bread..." in three different languages?
But you’d never think about finding your past on a grocery receipt.
Anthropologists in the future will go nuts over a pile of receipts from Wal-Mart, provided the ink doesn’t fade completely in the three months after you bring it home. Things like that are a great way to see how the people of a certain time period were living. What were they buying? Why were they buying it? Seriously, cuneiform tablets from ancient Sumeria are mostly files from the stockroom, and historians couldn’t be happier with them. If they’d contained a romance novel from the 4th millenium BC, historians would still love to have them, but they probably wouldn’t have so readily answered their questions of how people back then survived the winter.
This last weekend, my brother brought his plastic bag stash down for me to sort through for another project I'm working on. As I put the yellow Super Saver bags in one pile and the red and white Husker themed Hy Vee bags in another, he read off the previous purchases he’d made from the receipts we found in the bags.
Mostly, it was lots of cheese (my brother loves cheese), potato chips bought at the same time as loads of dip, and various 12 packs of the fancy flavored Mountain Dew he likes to drink (whereas I am a purist; Voltage? Bleh). It was an interesting picture of the diet of a male college student of today, since some of the receipts were recent and one was from as far back as 2010, when he first moved into his apartment.
In the interest of future anthropology, I urge major grocery retailers to start using something more durable and persevering than the register tape that rubs off onto the bag as soon as you leave the store. I would suggest etching it into some stone or maybe going Sumer-style on some clay tablets with a wedge shaped utensil. Of course, customers will have to wait a bit longer for a record of their purchases, but when they find out it’s all in the interests of some historians from the future, I’m sure they’ll understand.
Because in two hundred years, historians will be dying to know why we needed to hit Wal-Mart at midnight for some Cheez-Its.

1 comment:

  1. ancient shopping lists are equally fascinating http://lindaleriel.livejournal.com/13828.html