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Do You Judge People Based on What's In Their Shopping Cart?

Updated on February 27, 2015

Let me describe a situation to you—a common one which we've probably all been in before, multiple times.

You're in line to check out at your local supermarket or large grocery store. With nothing else to do while you wait your turn, you end up watching the person ahead of you unload her cart, idly curious to see what she's buying. And as you're doing so, perhaps certain thoughts start crossing your mind—thoughts of judgement based on what that other person is buying on that particular day:

"Look at all of that processed, packaged food!" you might be thinking to yourself. "And she has two young children with her! She should be cooking them healthy, fresh food instead of all of that junk."

"Look at that fat man buying all of those sweets and pies. No wonder he's so overweight. People like that are just raising the costs of health insurance for everyone, and should be forced to eat healthier."

"Look at that woman—her cart is full of cat food and barely anything else. She must be a cat hoarder."

"Look at that lady, buying all of those expensive ingredients and pre-prepared meals. I guess her husband never looks at the grocery bills!"


The thing is, you don't know who that person is, or why they might be buying those items. You could be right in your blind judgement of them, or you could be completely wrong.

That woman buying all that processed food might be a single mom who has no time to cook because she's working multiple jobs, and is just struggling to feed her family without any help from anybody else. Or she could be buying processed, packaged food to donate to a local food bank or homeless shelter, where ready-made processed foods are desired, better suited to donation and storage (or preparation by those with limited access to kitchen facilities.)

That "fat" person may actually be on a weight loss journey and have lost a significant amount of weight already. Maybe he has found success while still enjoying a treat for himself every now and then. Or he might be buying sweets and treats not for himself but for his office, an upcoming party, or some other function/use.

That woman with the cart full of cat food could be stocking up on items that are on sale to save money in the long term, even if she only has a few cats in her home. Or she might be buying them for a relative who is house-bound/lacking transportation and needs to buy cat food in bulk because that relative can't get to the supermarket more than once every few months. (This is a situation I am often in helping my mom; she does not drive and lives in an isolated area. When I am planning on visiting her I will bulk buy basic cat food and other non-perishables for her because she can't get to the store on her own regularly. And yes, I've gotten plenty of comments about "all of that cat food" and "how many cats do you have" more than once.)

That lady with all the expensive ingredients may not be married, but is simply happy to enjoy good ingredients on her own time and budget, thank you very much. Or she could be planning a very special party, dinner or event that only comes along once in a very long while and truly wants to splurge to celebrate.

Why am I writing about this today? Because I recently was reading a very volatile thread on the food forum Chowhound about rude grocery store checkout comments and it definitely struck a nerve. I've gotten such comments not just from checkers but also from other shoppers in line. And at those moments I feel like, Really? Go ahead and make a judgement about me based on what I'm buying, but you don't have to comment on it. And if you do, be prepared to get an earful about how wrong you are about what you think of me based on my shopping cart.

I'm more than happy to comment if someone asks me about an unusual ingredient I'm buying: how to use it, why I like it, what it actually is (don't ask me how many times I've had radicchio rung up as red cabbage. Hey, it's cheaper, so...) Recently I helped a hapless husband at the fish counter with how to cook the soft-shelled crab his wife instructed him to buy, because he had no idea how he was supposed to prepare them when he got home.

But when I'm checking out my purchases, don't judge me on my purchases. You don't know me. You don't know why I'm buying what I'm buying. And if you're a store employee you should know such comments and questions are inappropriate and could cost your business customers who then feel uncomfortable shopping there if they are going to be judged.

What's your experience?

Have you ever been announced by rude comments in the grocery store, judging you based on what you are buying? How did you respond to them?

© 2015 Nicole Pellegrini


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    • Uninvited Writer profile image

      Susan Keeping 3 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

      I'm in Canada and no one has ever mentioned what I have in my shopping cart. It is also none of my business what other people buy and why.

    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 3 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Great Hub, Nicole. I have received comments from cashiers at the supermarket that I did not particularly like. One cart load of food is only a snapshot of a person's life and never the whole story. We should not judge simply on this limited information. Besides, who are we to judge anyhow. Yes, I have done so also and I should not.

    • Tamirogers profile image

      Tami Rogers 3 years ago from Seattle, Washington

      Most fun I ever had was being a cashier in a grocery store! I used to play games in my head and guess what would be in their cart when they were standing in my line before I could peek. Fun Hub!!

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 3 years ago from USA

      It's so funny you mentioned pet food. Last time we shopped someone did make a comment on how much we had in our cart. I'd forgotten about that. We do the same thing and buy veggies elsewhere. Being a vegetarian I also grow my own food. Since it's only the two of us we do large shopping once a month, always have.

    • Nicole Pellegrini profile image

      Nicole Pellegrini 3 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Thanks for the comment, favored. And yes, I think we're all guilty of a certain amount of curiosity when we're in the supermarket checkout lanes. I've had my share of critical or "snarky" thoughts, but then I started seeing more and more examples of how wrong some of those assumptions can be. Plus, I've really heard an earful some of those times from people commenting when I bulk shop for my mom....or even when I'm taking her shopping and people want to give her 20 questions about what she's purchasing (she does take care of a number of feral cats, but people can be so judgmental! They may not see us buying much but cat food at Walmart, but that's because we buy most of our groceries elsewhere and try to support local farmers, plus raise our own pigs for meat.)

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 3 years ago from USA

      What a terrific topic and title. I wish I could say I've never looked at someone's cart with thoughts about why they were buying such products. Love that you led us to the other side of the cart, with the examples you gave.

      A few months back I noticed two ladies shopping with large orders, and you guessed it ... they were shopping for a food bank.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 3 years ago from Oklahoma

      Great article. The things we ponder in the grocery isle.

    • Lorelei Cohen profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 3 years ago from Canada

      Oh I am so guilty of this. I can't help but imagine all kinds of scenarios about the person shopping as I peek into their cart. I shop cart spy the majority of the time that I am out wandering the grocery aisles. I think some of us are just innate thinkers who cannot help our curious imaginative nature.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I have personally never commented on what other people are purchasing but as you wrote it is hard not to notice when standing in line particularly if they are checking out ahead of you. I have however asked people in grocery stores how to prepare certain items of which I am unfamiliar. Examples...the first time I purchased bitter melon and dragon fruit...I had no idea what to expect and people kindly advised me as to how to eat and/or prepare it.

      Your points are valid.