November 25, 2013 by briantshock
As I’ve previously stated in this blog, I have no idea how I managed to survive through college. It was not that the course load was too challenging, or I was out on the streets unable to secure lodging; the deficiencies were much more basic. I just rarely ate anything, or I’d eat one meal a day – two at the most. It was usually some kind of fast food or a trip to the all-you-can-eat dining hall on campus, so I could load up for the day. I highly doubted I was getting a balanced diet at any part of this. Rest assured the food pyramid was never consulted. Eventually this mistreatment of food would turn into a different beast altogether.
One of the cheapest items at Kroger was the loaf of baked French bread. At the time, you could pick up a loaf of bread for only around a dollar (with your Kroger Plus card). People hadn’t universally decided they hated gluten at this point, so there was also still the belief that bread was something of a healthy item. This also had the added benefit of being edible with minimal to no preparation at all. You could just take it from its plastic bag and start eating. You didn’t even need a plate! Therefore it was not uncommon to grab a loaf or two during one of the grocery trips to buy more soda and beer.
One day, my roommate Collin needed something printed for one of his classes. I have no idea how he had gotten to his third year of college without a printer, but I digress. I offered to let him use mine, but as the print job was over ten pages and ink prices were at a premium, he felt a little guilty about taking my charity. In exchange for the use of my printer and not having any cash on him at the time, he offered me a loaf of bread. I was pretty hungry as I had not eaten (see above) so I happily accepted this offer. Little did I know what this transaction would spark.
A simple task or favor around the house would usually be worth one loaf, like the use of the printer for a homework assignment. More lavish services, such as a drive over to the next town to go to the mall or for a last-minute trip to campus might cost two loaves. I never minded these tasks, but I also never turned down free bread as I would then have something to live on over the next day or so. Often we’d both sit on our disgusting living room couches that conveyed with the apartment for who knows how many generations of tenants watching ABC Family reruns of 90’s TGIF shows eating loaves of bread. This sounds a lot weirder now as I type it out, but at the time it seemed completely natural. Just two dudes watching some old shows, eating a very basic food item that was also used as currency or barter material. Nothing weird at all about that!
Now, I’m fully aware that we could have just paid one another with the actual USD money that we were using to buy these items, but this ended up being much better as it was also solving the problem of providing one another with the precious food that we needed to live another day. I know we could have just bought extra food while we were at the store buying our edible money, but that takes a lot of rational forethought; much more than a group of early 20-somethings possessed. I realize that the logic is very thin here, but just cut me some slack.
There were other food items from Kroger that were known to have been used in buying and trading for services, but these were not nearly as frequent or economical. For example, there was the “Manager’s Choice” box of donuts, which was in reality just a box of dozen assorted donuts from that morning or in all likelihood the day before. This was often very cheap, which was unsurprising considering what you were getting. This also provided you with smaller units of currency, as you could pull out a stale bear claw or cinnamon twist or two much like someone changing out a dollar for quarters. This didn’t last forever, as the disgustingness of the product eventually outweighed the convenience it afforded. Towards the end of our tenure in that apartment “Manager’s Choice” donuts became something of a slur; an undesired product in this food-based economy, both to eat, and to trade with.
I will be the first to admit this was a flawed system. We were young and lazy. But you have to wonder, with all the slang terms for food being money, maybe we weren’t the first. Maybe “making that bread” or “spending cheddar” were actually first used quite literally, rather than referring to working for a living to buy critical sustaining items such as food. Probably not, though.