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Tuttle

As the last holdout supermarket adopts 'club cards,' it's time to ask: What do they want with your personal information, anyway?

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Tucson has its share of good places to buy your victuals. Ethnic markets are ready to supply you with just about anything needed to prepare a dish from a country your mother never knew existed.

But even if you limit your shopping to specialty stores, or places like Trader Joe's and Tucson's jewel, the 17th Street Market, there may be occasions when you need something from a supermarket. And then you head to Albertson's, not because you prefer their blue color scheme, but because it's the only major supermarket in town free of those annoying cards. Alas, no longer.

As I walk into my local Albertson's the other day, I'm met at the door by a cheerful greeter handing out clipboards and forms. Even before I look at the one-page sheet, I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I know what's coming.

Oh, it's a simple enough form: not much more than name and address, but I'm loath to fill it out. But unless I am willing to pay an extra dollar per-pound for tomatoes on-the-vine, there's no choice. Then I spot the words at the bottom of the form that free me from forever having Albertson's be privy to my buying habits: Since the market wants to give me a card, it provides an option--something to the effect that though I want a card, I choose not to provide any information, so give me the damn card anyway. (Well, not quite, but you get the idea.)

I check the box and return the clipboard and empty form to the smiling woman, busily thanking everyone by name--until she gets to me. Her smile fades as she looks at the blank sheet, glances up at me and mumbles a perfunctory "thank you, ma'am." What did I care? I had my card and my savings were in the bag.

The notion of having to provide supermarkets with your identity to get a better price is irksome. Why do they need it? If they can afford to offer an item at a particular price if you have a card, they can afford to do so if you don't.

Sanguine folks may think it a marketing strategy--supermarkets can target you with specific offers aimed at your buying habits--but that's a ridiculous notion. In the first place, it would be cost prohibitive, and in the second place, it's likely no one has ever received anything other than a mass-produced flyer tucked away in the midst of junk mail.

So why those irritating pieces of plastic? The answer is (drum roll please): national security. A good way to target subversives is to keep tabs on who is eating what.

For example, everyone knows vegetarians are notorious rabble-rousers. There's always the risk that vegetarians could also be--gasp--animal rights activists. As our feckless, oops, fearless leaders are wont to tell us: Animal rights activists can morph into terrorists at the drop of a chicken bone.

So if your monthly list of purchased items doesn't include a healthy portion (since there's no such thing as a healthy portion, let's say a large portion) of flesh, you are immediately placed on a "watch" list. If you continue to eschew buying dead animals as food, your name, address and a list of your purchases are turned over to a little-known agency, operating under the aegis of the Department of Homeland Security, for scrutiny. The information is then entered into the Bureau of America's Righteous Food's database for analysis.

So it's not too far-fetched to expect that if you spend your food budget on items such as soymilk, tofu, kale and quinoa, one day there will be a knock at your door, and agents from BARF will be asking you to explain yourself.

Bearing an uncanny resemblance to the bad guys in The Matrix, these men in black will tear through your cupboards and violate your refrigerator. There's a way to avoid this unpleasantness.

If you must shop at supermarkets--to be avoided as much as possible--get yourself a card under a pseudonym. When you fill out the form, simply make up a name and address. They don't ask for ID, so this is effortless. Make sure you only use cash: There is no way of knowing if the supermarket's computer can match up your card with your check, debit or credit card. Should you already have a card with a dutifully provided real identity, tear it up, go back to the supermarket's service center and fill out a new one under a bogus name.

If you have the option of getting a card without divulging a name and address (which you probably do, even if the form doesn't spell it out), do so. This way, you can pay by check without worrying about the possibility of nasty computer shenanigans.

Happy subversive shopping, y'all.

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