Generally speaking, my husband does the grocery shopping and I do birthday/holiday/special event shopping. It works out well since I’m an impulse shopper when I grocery shop and much more disciplined in other types of stores. I know it’s weird. However, for a variety of reasons, I have been forced to do some grocery shopping for my mother in the recent past. I am ready to retreat back to the cheese.
My mother told me that she needed some toothpaste. I asked what kind. She said she didn’t care. How hard could it be – I bought ours once in a while. Focused shopping for picking up “our” toothpaste did not prepare me for the full shelf of options I confronted. I do watch some TV so I knew that there was whitening toothpaste and freshening toothpaste, however, I did not understand the mathematical implications of it. Once you understand that toothpastes aim to be anti-cavity, anti-gingivitis, anti-plaque, anti-tartar, for sensitive teeth (those going through a painful break-up with your gums maybe?), breath freshening, and whitening and/or some combination of these, you start to get the idea. Additionally, there are special types with baking soda, peroxide, and mouthwash in them. There are also various strengths of whitening (we probably wouldn’t need that if Starbucks didn’t exist). Of course there are also multiple brands with multiple goals, and multiple brands which specialize in specific goals. After reading labels and comparing benefits (prices are surprisingly similar across all options), I finally came to a decision. I bought “our” toothpaste for my mother. Impulse shopping is dead in the toothpaste department.
Next she wanted “TV dinners”. The rest of the world is now calling this food frozen dinners, and there are two rows of freezers holding them. We don’t eat frozen food except vegetables and ice cream, so there was no “our” type. I’m not sure if Swanson exists anymore, but it certainly has generated an amazing array of spawn. There are “regular”, low-carb, low-fat, gluten-free sections. You can get meals, entrees alone, or rice bowls. You can get spicy or various types of seasoned entrees. You can get “individual”, regular, or “hardy” portions. There are at least ten different brands (although I suspect most of them are owned by two or three large conglomerates like all other food). You can bake, microwave or steam (which is also done in the microwave). You can get chicken, turkey, beef, pasta, shrimp, or fish. I go back and forth, back and forth. Ten minutes later, I have made a few selections.
On to dairy. I know what type of milk she drinks (between no-fat, 1/2%, 1%, 2%, and regular, lactose-free, soy, almond, and whatever else I avoided looking at). Yogurt was another issue. I really haven’t bought any since I was pregnant and was totally unprepared. Greek or barbarian? (I have no idea what non-Greek yogurt is called.) No fat, low fat, full fat? Chunks of fruit or blended? Then I looked further down the line – apple pie, chocolate eclair, Boston creme pie, espresso. Wherever it started, yogurt has made its complete transformation to being an American food – you can buy it in a form that is in no way related to the way it was originally made or tasted. I took a deep breath, bought 0% fat Greek yogurt in berry flavors, and hoped for the best. I also bought coconut for myself (they didn’t have that flavor when I was pregnant) – it was yummy.
OK – 1/2 hour in and I’ve only checked off four things. This is not optimal, as Bucky Katt (Darby Conley’s extremely perceptive cartoon feline) would say. Oh good, I see the next few things are in produce. I just need to decide between organic and “regular”. I had not realized how negative the word ‘regular’ had become in food until this trip. Things are going well until I get to the lettuce. I refuse to buy iceberg lettuce. Mixed with other greens, I really like the crunchiness, but it doesn’t have any flavor to me. So I decide to go to the lettuce section (I didn’t realize there was a lettuce section before this trip). There was romaine, red leaf, green leaf, locally grown (on some corporate farm, no doubt) red and green, and living (it came in a plastic clamshell and you could extend its life by watering the base). I’m sure there were some others, but my brain stopped processing. I picked something that looked fresh and escaped.
I now understand why they are called ‘super’ markets. I also understand why my husband finds a food we like and sticks with it. I spent an hour shopping for ten items. I hope my mother likes them.