The Art and Science of Grocery ShoppingJane Roper
Every family has its own little division of labor: in our household, it’s Alastair who takes care of laundry, dishes, yardwork and the majority of household repairs (which frequently means calling a professional to take care of household repairs). He also does the majority of childcare Monday through Thursday.
Me, I have the “real” job — the one that pays the lion’s share of our expenses. I also manage our household bills and the girls’ wardrobe needs, and I do the cooking and (most of) the grocery shopping.
Occasionally, Alastair does the food shopping, but this requires my writing up a grocery list with sentence-long descriptions of half of the food items. On my list, for example, I could write “Chick peas (2)” but for Alastair I’d have to write “Two 15 oz. cans chick peas, (canned veg. aisle), Goya, not store brand.”
So it’s generally easier if I just do it myself. And I don’t mind it. Sometimes I even like it — it’s a nice break. Even meditative, in a way. The only sucky part is putting groceries away — which is right up there with emptying the dishwasher and vacuuming on the list of chores I hate.
Food shopping is a funny thing — weirdly personal. When you get into a regular groove with one store, it can be frightfully disorienting / annoying to go to other ones. (Why is the bread across from the dairy section instead of the frozen food section?! And what the hell is the meat section doing right next to the produce section?? It’s insanity!! And why do they not carry multi-grain English muffins? Haven’t they heard of fiber?!)
Anyway, there are several stores that I frequent. (This list may or may not be meaningless to anyone outside of New England.)
Stop & Shop. This is our go-to store. It’s five minutes away from our house, there’s ample parking, and — big plus — they’ve got the little hand-held scanners you can carry around with you to scan and bag food as you go, which is a huge time saver. Or at least it feels like one. PLUS, it makes it a great place to go with one of the girls: she can help scan (Or, as Elsa says “scab”) the bar-codes. Big fun! No toys or snacks needed to keep your child riveted!
And I’ve got Stop and Shop down to a science, man. I even have this blank grocery list form I adapted from this template, and the categories of foods follow the order of the store layout. It’s fucking awesome. Ask me where any item is. Come on: give me your best shot. Prepared horseradish? Next to the fresh sauerkraut, just to the right of the bacon. Slivered almonds? Baking aisle or between the coffee/tea section and the candy section in the second aisle from the produce section. Bam! I own that place.
2. Shaw’s / Star Market. Like Stop & Shop, but 10-15% more expensive. To be avoided.
3. Whole Foods. I don’t go to Whole Foods (aka “Whole Paycheck”) that often. But it’s en route to and from the girls’ preschool, so sometimes I stop there to pick up a few things we’re running low on. And occasionally I go there for special occasion stuff (cheese, baked goods, etc.). But I’d never do a “big shopping” there. Hells no!
Whenever I’m in Whole Foods I feel a little like Annie, in the Warbucks mansion for the first time. (Have I mentioned that Annie is a strangely large presence in my life?): The beautiful organic produce! The tantalizing baked goods! The environmentally responsible, cruelty-free and surely delicious grass-fed, college-educated beef! The free samples everywhere!
It’s like I’ve died and gone to grocery heaven, except…. 1.) Dear GOD it’s expensive and 2.) Can I just get some freakin’ Thomas’s English Muffins, instead of twenty-two grain sprouted spelt crumpets? Or some non-organic soy sauce? I mean, it’s SOY SAUCE people!
4. Trader Joe’s.
I don’t really understand Trader Joe’s. I know that a lot of people looooooove Trader Joe’s. They are cultish in their devotion to it. But whenever I go there, I feel slightly disoriented. I mean, yeah, I get that they have some cool snack foods and cookies. It’s a good place to go if you want decent convenience foods. I like the frozen potstickers. And the people who work there, in their wacky Hawaiian shirts, are generally nice. But I kind of feel like I’m shopping in a foreign country. And the produce sucks. And no Thomas’s English Muffins. Next!
5. Market Basket.
This place — specifically the one I occasionally go to in good ole Somerville, MA, the Paris of Boston — is nuts. Everything is 20-30% cheaper than at your average grocery store, and they have pretty much everything, PLUS a huge array of “foreign” foods and exotic fruits and vegetables. (You wouldn’t believe the tuber selection!) And it’s a virtual microcosm of the city. Slumming hipsters shop side by side with Haitian and Brazilian immigrants and Irish-Americans who’ve lived in town for generations. It makes you love America.
BUT the aisles are exactly two shopping carts wide, no more no less, and the place is always packed. So what you save at the register, you pay for in general stress and annoyance.
6. Hy-Vee. Actually, there’s no Hy-Vee anywhere near here. It’s a chain we shopped at when we lived in Iowa City (where I got my MFA). Nothing special about it, but they had a whole section of the salad bar devoted to jello, pudding and other mushy desserts, and the biggest durned pork section west of the Mississippi. It felt very exotic to east coast moi when we first moved there.
So, what’s your g0-to / don’t go-to store? And, fine, Trader Joe cult members, feel free to tell me why I just HAVE to spend more time in your temple of offbeat foods. [insert eyeroll]
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