The food industry is a tough business - and not just for Third World crop pickers and migrant workers.
In the past decade, I've worked for a half-dozen different grocers, from big-box stores to independents, from retail to warehouse, and employee turnover at all of them spins faster than a roulette wheel.
After two years at minimum wage, my first job as a 16-year-old butcher's assistant ended when the owner closed up shop because employees formed a union to demand a pay raise.
My latest gig stocking shelves during the graveyard shift alongside two guys with a combined 60 years in the industry begins a week before Thanksgiving.
I inherit the role of newbie from Dave, a pudgy, grey-haired guy who always shows up to work 20 minutes early (the store requests that employees arrive 15 minutes in advance).
Most nights, only two people are needed to prep the aisles, and few words are spoken, although Dave occasionally adds some insider's insight. "Check out this reline of a reline," he says, pointing to his new row of stacked soup cans with excitement. So eager he'd make the Stepford wives cringe, Dave is the poster boy for the store's pledge of "guaranteed freshness."
My manager greets me at the start of every shift with a shit-eating grin, and always asks me, "How are you enjoying the job so far?"
I bite my tongue and tell him the receiving, unloading, sorting and placement of thousands of consumable goods is pretty much as I'd expected. I neglect to tell him about the box toss competition - pitching a box from one end of the aisle as close as possible to its exact location on the shelf - a sport created to save time and add spice to the job, which may explain why there are so many dented cans of peas out there.
I also neglect to mention the mind-numbing questions that arise while stocking groceries in the middle of the night. Combine long periods of silence, easy-listening music and the schedule of a social recluse and you get transcendental meditation that will drive you insane.
As if the solitary confinement weren't maddening enough, on weekends I'm left wondering what to do between 4 and 8 am, when most of the world (at least those between the ages of seven and 70) is sleeping.
Unable to reset my body clock, I spend most of my off days in a perpetual state of something akin to jet lag, and after one hysterical stretch of 48 hours sans sleep, have visions of a cross-legged Buddha sitting in the middle of the bakery department.
After a while, I begin to develop a too-close and unhealthy relationship with food - stuffing bags of marshmallows onto shelves feels strangely sensual.
I'm among a growing subculture of pasty-looking people suffering from seasonal affective disorder.
Days before my three-month probation period ends, my manager calls me into a meeting. I've been told repeatedly that the store is rated one of Canada's top employers for its profit-sharing plan.
I'm naively expecting a pay raise. Instead, I'm asked to turn in my box cutter and apron.
"Although I've never worked with you personally," stammers the manager, who has a half-dozen family members working for the company, "you just never seem to show up to work with a lot of enthusiasm."
I want to ask whether I've been brought in strictly for the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas rush and fired before they're legally required to give one week's severance.
But as I collect my thoughts, what I really want to know was whether I look enthusiastic about never having to work as a midnight stocker again.