5 Thoughts: Grocery Shopping

1. IT USED TO BE CALLED “doing the marketing.” And it is one of my life’s favorite small pleasures.

2. This simple joy can probably be traced back to my dad and I doing it together every Saturday or Sunday morning (or so goes my memory), when I was a young’un in Massachusetts. We would visit one store for meat, another for produce, another for household products, yet another for baked goods. This instilled in me the value not only of thrift (some places were less expensive than others, and while my dad is the farthest thing from a cheapskate he thoroughly enjoys the game of Hunt Those Bargains), but also of patient diligence; it takes time to hunt and hunt well. When I grocery-shop these days on the early mornings of Sunday, Tuesday and Friday, I do the same thing: Safeway for staples and washday items (and bananas), “SoMa” for produce, coffee beans and occasional croissants, and “WhoFo” for meat, jarred spices and other rare delectables (many of which are more affordable than you might think, if you stick to the house brand).

3. As I shop, I like to flash back on our hunting-and-gathering ancestors, although those forebears never used or even thought of such modern marvels as cat treats or paper towels (or toilet paper — but that’s a topic for another blog post, or even another blog). I try to picture where my items came from, tracing the long line connecting farm or factory to truck to warehouse to truck to aisle and all other points in between. I think it’s important to not lose sight of the food chain. After all: if you don’t know where your food comes from, should you be eating it?

4. Since I almost always see someone I know in at least one store, even if it’s just the grocery clerk I ran into at the midnight premiere of “Revenge of the Sith” and with whom I became avid geek-buddies, I can thus appreciate why the Greeks were so fond of the idea of the “agora” (marketplace) as social engine. We’re all there for the same purpose; it’s instant and situational camaraderie, punctuated by passing shopping carts. I have overheard friends connecting, old friends reconnecting, and business deals being made, all over sun-dried tomatoes or frozen waffles.

5. As I get older, the stores’ ambient tune-age gets weirder and weirder — but not because of my unfamiliarity with modern music: these days it’s not uncommon to hear The Ramones, DEVO, The Clash, and other high-school soundtrack favorites. (That’s at Safeway, believe it or not. Whole Foods tends to play newer oldies, c. mid-to-late 1990s, as does Sonoma Market.) Granted, I do go shopping at first-light-o’clock, and maybe the selections are tailored to who the management thinks is shopping at that hour, but still … it seems a tad out of place to hear melodic paeans to nihilism while comparing prices of dish soap.

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