Oxtails, Grocery Stores and Class in America

We have now moved on to the lands of Scandinavia — Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, plus Finland, because it’s up there in the same vicinity.  I’m already getting tired of potatoes and vegetables in the brassica  family (e.g. cabbage and brusells sprouts,) but we don’t go too far south for another month, unless I change my mind.  Maybe Hungarian food will provide some relief from the monotony.  We’ll see.  But now back to the subject at hand:

My search for oxtails to make Norwegian Cabbage Soup  — the soup was not that good, by the way, so I’m not including the recipe here — gives me a chance to wax eloquent on the subject of class difference here in America, as manifested by such mundane institutions as grocery stores.

Tucson is a great place to make these observations, because we have a chain of three types of grocery stores which  are all owned by the same outfit here in town, each type exemplifying a different rung of the class ladder.  First there’s Baasha’s, a middle of the road, good Safeway type grocery store for the middle class; they have clean parking lots with lots of Hondas and Toyotas  parked in them, fresh flowers for sale,  steak and salmon in the meat department,  and an extensive produce department with even a small organic  section.

Then there’s A.J.’s — only one of them in town, located in the ritziest shopping mall, La Encantada. This is definitely the food shopping playground of the wealthier Tucson elite.  A.J.’s parking lot is pristine and landscaped like a hotel, its parking spaces graced only with  Lexus’s and Beamers, except when I come to shop in my dirty Odyssey with the Love Your Mother bumper sticker.   Inside you can’t find a flower that costs less than $10.00 a stem — okay, I exaggerate, but not by much. They have every vegetable known to domestic agriculture, and when I asked for a brisket once before Passover, the butcher looked at me like I had something dirty on my face — live lobster in a tank, yes, flank steak and gizzards, no.  You get the general idea.

And then there’s good old Food City.  I love Food City because I can leave with five plastic bags full for less than $50.00.  The only problem is, there’s no organic, not a leek or a yukon gold potato in sight, and sometimes I get so busy dancing to the ranchera music that they blast through the loud speakers, that I forget what I came for. I’m serious.  Okay, so in comparison to the other two stores, Food City’s parking lots are dirty, the lines between the parking spaces faded, the cars largely American makes and pick-up trucks,  the grocery carts falling apart.  Inside there are no flowers for sale, but lots of scented votive candles with the virgin’s picture pasted on the front.  You may not be able to find a  box of organic mixed baby lettuces, but you can find chayotes, 10 different kinds of chiles, tamarindos, key limes, papayas, guavas, bulb green onions, and big, huge stacks of iceberg lettuce, and dried hibiscus leaves to make a wonderful drink called “jamaica.

And oxtails.  Nobody else in town had oxtails, and when I called A.J.’s to ask about them, just in case, the clerk almost laughed.  I could just imagine her nose ascending and her pinky in the air.  But what’s the big (class) deal here?   My son Lucas bit into an oxtail tonight at dinner (they weren’t actually in the soup, but used to flavor it) and said, “Wow!  That’s delicious!  Why don’t we eat that more often?”  Number One reason is that they aren’t in the market I usually go to.  But why?  Good question — too little meat on the bone?  Too fat?  Too ethnic?  Too low class?  Hmmm.

It’s a topic I will undoubtedly return to.

About tamisrenteria

Tamis Renteria, author and anthropologist, writes novels and short stories about people struggling with different religious, spiritual, and cultural traditions. She lives with her husband and youngest son in Tucson, Arizona where she types on a Mac, cooks ethnic food, and gardens among the sahuaros.
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3 Responses to Oxtails, Grocery Stores and Class in America

  1. Linda Whitley says:

    my late, beloved, husband Henry, loved Oxtail Soup! He would make it himself – it was greasy, and I have to admit, delicious! (he also loved “head cheese”, which I am sure A.J.’s never heard of!)

  2. Thanks for the comment, Linda. I definitely think oxtails and oxtail soup of some sort will be on our future menus here at the Renterias. And aren’t husbands who cook the most wonderful thing? Henry sounds like he was a great guy.

    • Nancy Fisher says:

      I have a great recipe that I used to make with oxtails. Will try to find it. My kids loved it and used to ask for it. Seems like I found them at Safeway years ago, but for sure at the American Meat Market on south 4th Ave., in the Mexican part of town. That was before Food City!

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