I love Trader Joe’s. I probably went  there every other day this summer. The sliding doors would open to the kind of music my dad and I like, maybe James Taylor or Emmylou Harris, and a Hawaiian shirt-clad kid I went to high school with. He would greet me by name.

We got a Trader Joe’s down the street the summer before I left for college, and it almost made me want to stay. Why go to Maine when you could buy cookie butter at whim? The closest one used to be in Cincinnati, so whenever my family went up to go to the art museum or a concert or a professional sporting event (you can’t really do these things in Kentucky), we would stop by and get oatmeal cranberry dunkers. It was fucking special.

“Man, Trader Joe’s is the shit,” I sighed, spraying crumbs of blue corn chips across my brother’s dash on our way home from a TJ’s stop.

“Julia, people don’t say that anymore. You’re so lame,” he said, swigging French berry lemonade from the curvy, glass bottle. “Also I thought you were a communist now.”

“Yeah, but those little fancy-ass pigs-in-a-blanket are so good.”

“Aren’t you a vegetarian now too?”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t make the pigs-in-a-blanket less good.”

Clearly he didn’t get it. I like Trader Joe’s because I’m a communist. He was probably worried that I was going to put a Lenin statue on my desk or drop out of college to move “off the grid.” But what anti-capitalism (or communism if you like) means to me is to look at our economic system, see who it’s hurting and how, and figure out how we can do it better.

A few weeks ago, I was in the Portland Trader Joe’s with my roommate Olivia. We strolled through the aisles and felt our type-A minds unwind.

“Liv, I feel…relaxed.”

“Me too. It’s weird. Do we need more tea?”  

“Yeah, let’s get some ginger pear. And possibly some mint?”

Trader Joe’s is great because there’s only one kind of anything. We didn’t have to choose between ten brands of mint tea, ultimately deciding on the one with the most appealing packaging but wondering if maybe we should have gone with Tazo or Celestial Seasonings.
We escaped what Barry Schwartz calls the paradox of choice. It’s a quirk of consumer capitalism we’ve all experienced. You’re standing in the shampoo aisle at the drug store where there are so many options it makes it difficult to choose. You pace down the aisle, double back, pace some more as variables tumble through your head: price, scent, packaging aesthetics, your past experience, what your roommate uses, advertisements you’ve seen, until you glance at the time and realize you’ve been stuck for five minutes—paralysis.

The shampoo aisle scenario provides a preponderance of choice. Does A, B, or C suit my needs better? In reality, there is negligible difference between the dozens of options. The whole shampoo aisle is owned by Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson (seriously, look it up). And let’s face it: how much do these consumer choices—Dove vs. Secret, Patagonia vs. Mountain Hardware, PBR vs. Rolling Rock—matter to the cores of our lives?

The ideology of choice preaches that people can make themselves happy by making the right choices, consumer and otherwise. You have the power to choose your own path: college, career, life partner. This logic works in reverse as well. If you’re unhappy, you must have made the wrong choices.

But no choices exist in a vacuum. Social pressure, explicit or internalized, affects every choice. Despite the myriad and disparate factors influencing choice, we strive to make an ideal one. But when you’re choosing laundry detergent, there is no best choice.

So that’s why this baby Marxist (shoutout to Professor Gouda for the label) loves her some TJ’s. We live in a world with too many kinds of shampoo, and critical ideology can help us understand it. I guess a full-grown Marxist wouldn’t want corporations at all, but that shining, elusive, ever-distant vision doesn’t do much for me. I am thankful for a quick decision made confidently and without regrets. I am thankful for the respite from paralysis. I love Trader Joe’s.