HomeJanuary 2012Matzah for What?

Matzah for What?

Stuck unceremoniously on the end of your supermarket aisle last month you no doubt noticed a Chanukah display.  A box of gelt (maybe), a few $6 bottles of Kedem juice (but not the white kind that you’d actually give to a child, the purple kind that stains your rug before you even begin to pour), 50 ancient-looking plastic sacks of lentil soup mix, some of those cheap-o Chanukah candles in the blue box and a few jars of applesauce.
OK.  These are mildly useful.  But also on the display you probably noticed the dusty jars of borscht, the Dr. Brown’s soda and, of course, matzah.
It doesn’t matter what time of year it is; if something Jewish is happening, supermarkets assume it involves matzah.  Never mind that we loathe the stuff when we have to eat it; Jews apparently can’t get enough of our matzah.  Chanukah, Rosh Hashanah, um… well, OK, those are the only non-Passover holidays that grocers know about, but you get the point.  Jews are culinarily identified with the bread of our affliction.
In high school I worked for a small precursor to Whole Foods.  It was one of those hoity-toity gourmet markets that specialized in locally grown organic foods and slow-roasted coffees.  It featured the first cheese bar most Americans had ever seen and sold packaged sushi before packaged sushi became available at gas stations.
One year before the holidays, a few box boys began preparing what management must have thought would be a spectacular Chanukah display.  They were arranging boxes of matzah in a giant conical shape so tall that they needed a ladder to get to the top.  Yes, they were making a Christmas tree out of matzah.
I quickly informed them about the miracle of Chanukah.  The oil, the lights, the doughnuts and the hashed browns.  The matzah tree went away, but I never knew where they put it.
It wasn’t until this past December, staring at the incongruous display of cream soda and borscht and matzah at my supermarket, that I realized someone had to order this food.  Someone decided, based on some kind of data somewhere, that December was the right month to order matzah.  And then someone else filled that order.  Another someone shipped that order.  After that, someone else unpacked that order.  Then someone entirely different stacked that order on the shelves.
In all those someones, not one – not a single person – stopped, as I had in December of my sophomore year of high school, to ask, “Hey, what’s up with the matzah?”
The ever-intrepid reporter, I decided to call local supermarket chains to find out.  They didn’t know, but they referred me to the California Grocers Association – who, also, didn’t know.  Same with the Food Marketing Institute.  The mystery of the matzah is so puzzling, that at one supermarket corporate headquarters, a Jewish secretary asked me to call her back if I ever got the answer.  Sadly, I will not be calling her.
I hope you all had a wonderful, matzah-free Chanukah.  And if any of you know a local grocer, please send him a Panettone cake and bottle of eggnog from me.  For Easter.

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  1. Next time you’re buying Shabbat candles, pay careful attention. It’s likely you’ll find a box of the Rokeach colored Hanukkah candles next to them.

    For grocery store fun, walk up to a sales person in June and ask them “Where are the Christmas decorations?”. After they give you the obligatory answer (while looking at you like you’re an idiot) “We only sell them during the holidays”, ask them “Why, then, do you sell Hanukkah candles year-round?”


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