I went with my mom as a kid. I rode in the cart and got to eat a doughnut while we shopped. My opinion was occasionally consulted. Celery so we can try ants on a log again? Absolutely not. Strawberry frosted Pop Tarts? Definitely. Dunkaroos? Is that even a question? Dunkaroos are the height of morning snack excellence. We’d weave through the aisles in an orderly fashion, only occasionally having to double back for a forgotten item. At the checkout, it was my job to help organize the belt. Hand me all the fruits and vegetables my mom would instruct. Now all the things that go in the fridge. The coupon exchange was next. I loved to watch the numbers decrease: $142.50, $142.00, $140.25. Sometimes one wouldn’t scan, or we’d picked the wrong size to qualify for the coupon. Sometimes, with enough planning and attention paid to what was on sale plus what coupons came in the mail that week, we’d get something for free. A pack of pink razors. A fun new type of shampoo. A box of organic mac n’ cheese.
They’re very cosmopolitan about it in Europe. No one lives in an apartment big enough for a full size refrigerator or a pantry, and they’re (well, at least the French are) really picky about freshness and quality. They stop by the market or bakery or butcher on the way home from work each day. They walk to work, of course, so darting into a store for a fresh baguette and two plump tomatoes is no hassle at all. The supermarkets we frequented in York held shelves of delectable foreign treats: digestive biscuits, cake in a can, houmous. One day we went searching for eggs. By the cheese and yogurt? Nope. By the milk? Negative. They’re in the baking aisle, near the flour a helpful employee explained when we asked. We dubiously travelled along the shelves of sugar and cupcake liners and brownie mix. Sure enough, several varieties of eggs rested in their snug cardboard cocoons at exactly room temperature.
On my own, now, it’s all about efficiency. I take pride in being in and out with minimal impulse buys in under an hour. A good week starts with Saturday night or Sunday morning meal planning. I bookmark recipes, make a list of needed items, and cross check with the week’s ad to see what’s on sale. I rummage through my coupon collection, nowhere near as organized as my mom’s was, to check for extra deals. Then it’s off to church, and on the way home, I stop at Meijer. It’s usually quiet at 11:00 a.m. Sunday morning. I know which driveway to use in order to avoid the back up of cars waiting for pedestrians near the entrance. I know how to find a half-size cart because no one wants to push a giant one through those little aisles. My shopping list is organized by aisle. Produce first, followed by meat, bread, beverages, snacks, breakfast, ethnic foods, canned goods, baking needs, cleaning supplies, frozen foods, dairy, and finally a stop in beauty. I know which cashier is the fastest, which one is the nicest, and which one packs my reusable grocery bags like her own personal Tetris championship. These are the three most desirable checkout lanes, and I’m willing to choose a longer line if I recognize the cashier. I organize my items on the belt by category, like mom always did. It makes for easier unpacking at home.
When I go with Amy, we wander. There’s no list. There’s no pattern of travel through the store.
What do you need? I ask.
Mmm… dinner she responds.
Yes, but what?
We’ll see something that looks good.
We meander through produce, spend a long time deciding on a new kind of beer to try, and finally decide on a meal. That requires going back through several aisles looking for items. This is not my usual store, and I have no idea why the peanut butter and jelly are in the bread aisle instead of with the other condiments like they should be. Our trip is inefficient and takes forever, and the prices aren’t as good as Meijer, but we do end up with a craving-satisfying dinner. And the beer is great.
In Seattle for spring break, we need groceries for the week. The boys have just moved into a new house, so the cupboards and fridge are a bit bare. Plus, no one really cooks here. So my three planned dinners for the week are going to require a Safeway trip. I write a list, grab a cart, and muster the troops.
Gabe—avocado, garlic, onions, and sweet potatoes.
Will—quinoa, black beans, and canned tomatoes.
Josh—milk, eggs, cheese, bacon.
Meet back here in three minutes.
Abby, do you ever feel like Wendy directing the Lost Boys? Gabe asks.
It’s an apt description. They do not return immediately with their designated items. Instead, they slink back sheepishly, grinning mischievously, their arms full of Coke (you like diet, right? We got that too!), Oreos, Cheez-its, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. I roll my eyes and smile. We eat healthy and filling dinners that week. But the Cheez-its really fill in the gaps during late night movie munchies.
Abby Zwart (’13) teaches high school English in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She spends her free time making lists of books she should read, cooking, and managing the post calvin.