Sunday, March 22, 2015

How not to approach the produce department

Posted By on Sun, Mar 22, 2015 at 7:19 AM

I’m guessing you’re among those excited about the coming of Spring. Warmer days, shorter nights, readopting your health-related resolutions and spending more time enjoying natures’ finest fruits and veggies. It’s not that your local produce department sees a lull in the fall and winter months, quite the contrary, but the activity shifts from the root vegetables, hard squash and hearty fruits to leafy greens, grilling vegetables and the coming of softer sweets. Springtime in the produce department is colorful, fresh and inviting, but proceed carefully.
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We clerks understand your bright, renewed curiosity of our produce offerings however naive you may be — that’s called radicchio, and, no, the kiwi isn’t local. But day after day, question after question, we tire easily and our patience dwindles. We’re not asking for much, only that you bring this advice with you when rediscovering all that your local produce department has to offer.

Clerks are people too, greet us accordingly. Nothing says "I’m an ass" more than beginning our interaction with a “do you have,” or an “I need,” especially when we’re not even looking at you yet. Are we below an “excuse me,” a “hello,” or a simple “hi”?

Now that we’ve had the chance to break the ice, how can I help you? Seriously, if you don’t know the name of what you’re looking for, do try to be a little more specific instead of telling me it’s “something I had at my mother-in-laws’ barbecue.” A seasoned clerk should be pretty good at catching on to little clues; flavors, similar items, dishes, etc., but you’ve got to give us something.

Along the same lines is syntax, it can be important. The produce department is full of awkward product names, silent e's and foreign variations, not to mention a section of the store where the sexual innuendos are endless — you don’t see us sampling bananas, do you?

We, of course, try to avoid these situations in everyday employee-to-customer interactions, often correcting you promptly before you misspeak and carrying a prudent demeanor, but it can be difficult.

Take the melon displays for example — there’s one right there. “Are these melons ripe?” “I can’t get over the size of those melons!” See what I mean? Not to mention the kids’ signature move: “look at my melons,” presenting two cantaloupes accordingly. It’s not just the kids.

“Excuse me,” asked a graying man on a Sunday morning. “I’ve got a question for you.”

“Shoot,” I answered, letting my guard down.

“How do you sex an eggplant?” he asked confidently.

“Oh,” I hesitated, of course. “I’m sorry, you want to what with an eggplant?”

“My goodness,” he said with a short breath, face redder than any strawberry I had ever seen. “I mean…”

He explained that he was following a recipe calling for “male eggplant” and wanted to know how to tell the difference — some believe that male eggplant is less bitter. But I was still reeling from the initial thought. (As for determining the gender of an eggplant, it’s argued that eggplant is technically a fruit, botanically speaking.)

Just remember: Phrasing is important.

Once you’ve declared you're coming in peace and given us an idea of the items you’re looking for, carefully, only the basket will stand between you and your rediscovery of the produce department.

Thanks for shopping with us.

The man behind the apron is Craig Lemley, digital content coordinator here at the Indy. The Colorado Springs native spent nearly a decade working in grocery stores across the Pikes Peak region before retiring his produce knife for a surprisingly less-stressful media career. Follow him on twitter (@_CraigLemley) or send questions/comments to

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