I never allot enough time for the grocery store. I need three things—usually some combination of bananas, yogurt, coffee, pasta sauce, ice cream or zucchini—so I figure I’ll be in and out, lickity split. Even when I’m shopping for the whole week, for all my meals, I underestimate the time it takes to rove aisles, to examine apples and poke at eggplant; to compare bottom-shelf wine sales and wonder what I’ll want for dinner by the time Friday rolls around. So, I’m rushed, and because I’m rushed and late for work and the checkout line is too long, I forget that, actually, I love grocery stores.
What I love about them is precisely why I never make it out in a reasonable time frame: I’m distracted by the bounty and options and wealth of this brightly lit place. I’ve read enough about American grocery stores to know that they are impeccably designed, and that in fact, my distraction is precisely the point. I am guided by a marketing expert whose job hinges on my inability to buy only three items. I am at the mercy of gimmick. But, perhaps because I’m sort of aware of this—and my rash purchases are usually limited to a new flavor of greek yogurt on sale (honey vanilla!) or a vegetable that I have no idea how to cook (kale?)—I sort of enjoy being tossed about so. I’m less tempted to buy a bag of chips because there are simply so many, and because I also know that there will be just as many there tomorrow. Perhaps it is because I’ve just returned from a place where this bounty is not so, where apples have bruises and tomatoes are fleeting, that I even see the excess. I lamented the sorry food selection in the Hiper Paiz (white bread or cookies?) so that now I can enjoy the ridiculous self-induglence of American produce sections (not to mention the cereal aisle, the epicenter of, in the words of Michael Pollan, “a food system organized around selling large quantities of calories as cheaply as possible”).
A generous benefactor gave me a Whole Foods gift card, which I’ve been hoarding until I needed a treat. Thus, today, I wandered in with an hour to spare and the luxury of money not coming from my bank account. I usually would feel guilty about spending an hour in a supermarket (a prolonged errand), but because I entered with the mindset of recreation (a fun afternoon outing), I gave into the grocery store. To the minutes I spent comparing 7-grain v. flaxseed english muffins, to the erratic wanderings around the produce section, muttering like a crazy person about how to cook the bundles of asparagus on sale. I drooled over pastries and giggled at the ridiculous parade of shoppers that visit the Whole Foods on the Westside of Los Angeles. I emerged with two bags full of food, full of nutrition for a week and the amazing opportunity to feed myself whatever the heck I wanted to eat (which, as it turns out, are the flaxseed english muffins).