Back home, we would go to Costco every other week.
When Costco first opened in Taiwan, it was all the rage. People would line up for hours just to even get in to the parking lot, and wait for even longer to get in.
What had appealed to them was the low prices and the snacks for all. It was a luxury to go to Costco. Teenagers would line up just to hang out with their friends in between the aisles, upper-class housewives would come with their housekeepers to check out the deals that would make their child’s next birthday party the best one in their class, and people like my dad will fill up a whole cart to sustain their snack needs. Costco was like a magnified version of a regular supermarket; to us, everything was bigger and better at Costco. There were no negative connotations surrounding Costco.
I didn’t know what Costco meant.
That ended a few months ago.
A few months ago, I went to visit my brother in New York. He was still struggling to find a job, and it was hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle while still trying to simply survive each day. He relied heavily on eating cheap fast food that was no good for his health, and his body had certainly taken a hit from food poisoning incidents that happened to coincidentally occur the day I landed.
“It’s cheap.” My brother would tell you, “It’s cheap and it’s simple and it’s good.”
We drove to Costco that night. After quickly washing down some pizza slices with some soft drinks, we went in. With my brother being unemployed at the time, my dad offered to buy him the necessities he could think of. We scattered, and as I wandered into the snack aisle, I saw what I have been reading about in the news.
Whenever I had saw the word “Costco” being mentioned in Western media, it was often associated with poverty. The idea of buying food or day-to-day products in bulk and saving money was a commonality in the United States. When I was in Taipei, I saw rich housewives dressed head to toe in designer brands and flipping through the sushi, trying to figure out which one would impress her friends more. When I was in Queens, I saw a mother trying to pay attention to all four of her children at the same time whilst browsing the snack aisle, trying to figure out how long each box would sustain their snack needs.
The United States is often criticized for its consumer culture, with “the bigger, the better” being upheld as the national motto due to the large portion sizes it provides. But although food portions seem to be increasing, the prices stay the same. That’s how corporations like Costco keep people coming back for more. Fast food chains provide large portions and staggering low prices, while the staggering costs of healthier alternatives leave the impoverished to settle for fast food.
The snacks at Costco weren’t necessary healthy, but they were what was available. It’s easier, more convenient, and affordable to buy a dozen fun-size packs of Oreos, especially in single-parent households or households with two working parents. By shopping Costco, parents can keep their kids full when they’re not at home.
I understood what Costco meant.
Costco stands for sustainability for these families; because of stores like Costco, parents can feed their kids even when they are not around. I understand that people often link problems of obesity to the wholesale culture of America, but if we continuing blaming problems on people who are in situations like poverty, which is out of their control, we are never going to change the currents.
There are always going to be people who spite Costco or look down on how “unhealthy” other people’s lifestyles are, but it only takes a step back to see the reasons behind it.
Editor's Note: Costco stores in Taiwan are genuinely bigger and better. They offer both American and Asian delicacies—from hot dogs to sea cucumbers—and operate on a far more intricate, regulated sampling system.