August 14, 2017, 2017
By: Mary Purdy, MS, RDN
I adore grocery shopping. One of my ideal Saturday night plans is lingering amidst the lemons, ambling around the apples, perusing the pickles and zoning out by the zucchini. Shopping for food is more like a hobby than a chore. It’s like a little trip to a food museum, and on a Saturday night, I don’t have to rush. I don’t have to get back to anything except for…the rest of Saturday night.
Normally on a quick weeknight shop, I have to stay on the route, focused and predictable, purchasing the necessities: kale, lemons, garlic, cilantro, quinoa, carrots, sweet potatoes, apples, oranges, almonds and sunflower seeds, cans of chick peas and black beans, tortillas, and don’t forget the salsa, yells my husband, Keith. (Or the coconut milk!) I have the list down pat in my head. I know what we need for a typical week of meals so that we’ve got enough balance, bounty, color, fiber, sweet, sour, plain and fancy….but…. Saturday night at the Pacific Central Food Coop in Seattle, the world is mine. I can spend time reading labels and comparing ingredients, (wow, this brand has guar gum while this one uses carrageenan), discover new products, (There are 19 different brands of mustard!), sneak a taste of something in the bulk bin, (what exactly is in those gritty little chunks of brown marbled nuttiness?) look at products in the freezer that I’ve never seen (frozen chicken gizzards? Eek!).
It’s an adventure and I get to take something home afterwards! That doesn’t happen at a museum. You cannot actually remove anything from a museum without causing a pretty big ruckus. (Trust me, my mom touched a painting once in a museum in New York City and almost got escorted out by a guard.) But grocery stores let you both touch and take items, historical and modern, out of the building and into the comfort of your own pantry where you can put them on display for your family members and guests, who can look at them and then devour them.
I am also at home in a grocery store. I appreciate the comforting familiarity of what I see as I stroll: my favorite box of flax seed crackers peeking at me from the shelf. I remember those, my tummy chimes. And now, look, they come in new flavors. “Rosemary”! Heavenly! “Savory”? Well, I’ll be damned. “Cinnamon Raisin”! Un-heard of! Crackers with cinnamon and raisin in them. Who thinks of these creative combinations?
I clip coupons as a warm up: my grocery shopping foreplay. I don’t care if it's 35 cents, goshdarnitt, I’m determined to spend less than I did at the last trip. I get high off of savings. When I start flipping through those little coupon books and realize I have already save $3 and haven’t even started putting things in my basket, my heart rate starts rising (not in the “your Aunt Thelma has high blood pressure” kind of way, but rather in the “I just won the raffle prize” kind of way). It’s like I am suddenly holding a 3 dollar bill in my hand, which makes me feel powerful, not because 3 dollar bills don’t exist, but because that was $3 that I got paid for no other reason than I picked up a little booklet of coupons and looked through it. As I hand over the flimsy 2 by 2 paper cut-out to the cashier, I have this gratifying sensation that I just got something for nothing. Basically, someone just gave me 65 cents to help me buy a jalapeno hummus that I was going to buy anyway. I scour the aisles for sales (more savings!) – denoted by a bright orange sign – and grab those items off the shelves with extra spirit. And I’m not too proud to say that yes, I wait for the sales and then buy several tubs/bags/cartons of that item. Bam! Just saved (or made) four dollars and 98 cents. And it’s not going to take me all that long to go through those 4 cartons of almond milk.
On Saturday evenings at my local store, the patrons seem to fall into three categories:
The First: The market lovin’ foodie folks, coupons peeking out of their pockets, (hello, moi) taking the time to choose the perfect tomato, studying labels and relishing in a chocolate-covered coconut chunk they snuck from the bulk bin. (Yes, that would be me again).
The Second: Couples on a dinner-making date buying the ingredients for their meal - the older ones quibbling, the newer ones trying to be as agreeable as possible – “Um, sure! I’m fine with any of the different types of pasta. You choose!”. We all know that’s not true. I have been that person and found myself very disappointed with penne when what I really wanted were spirals – the naturally superior choice.
And the Third: The solo shopper, shoulders slightly hunched, staring blankly at the ice cream in the freezer section. I have also been in category number three on nights when a Mint Galactica Coconut Bliss Ice Cream appears to have the utmost of potential to solve the world’s problems – or at least put them on pause for a moment. Our current political turmoil immediately seems insignificant when ladling a scoop of Salted Caramel Chocolate Chunk directly onto your tongue.
I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t still have the occasional crazy Saturday night out smoking hookahs and going to a hard rock concert. I do. (Minus the hookah, and ok, exchange “hard rock” for “singer songwriter” at an intimate tavern on a quiet street in a quaint part of town.) But I have learned to find delight (or perhaps accept the delight that I naturally feel) in a simple evening of mingling with the miso paste at the community market. I am as comfortable in a grocery store surrounded by leeks, lemons and legumes as I am at home with my books, bed and bathtub. When you feel connected to food, spending precious time with it feels less like a chore and more like a gift that offers both culture, entertainment and experiential learning – especially when you partake of as much “secret sampling” as I do.
Do you have a favorite grocery shopping experience? Share in our comment section below.
To dig a little deeper, you may want to check out our Archived Webinars including Culinary Nutrition: from science to plate or The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen in the Members-Only section of our website.