One of the delights of not having a job anymore is that I spend more time with my wife. To be honest, much of this time is spent in strange ways that I would never choose for myself but, these days, we do spend more time together than we used to. And one of those ways is grocery shopping. It’s given me a new perspective on life and made me wonder who buys all that stuff on the supermarket shelves. It certainly isn’t me.
I’ve done my share of grocery shopping in the past but when I go shopping by myself, it is different from shopping with my wife. While I shop with purpose and efficiency, my wife bips and bops all over the store and spends too much time waiting for service, like at the deli counter. These days,shopping with my wife, my mind drifts as I wander the supermarket aisles following her whims. I seldom have an agenda which leaves me free to ponder the wonders of all the products on the shelves. Who, I ask myself, buys this stuff?
I’m a simple guy!
My wife and I have simple wants and needs, at least that’s how I see it. As we traverse the store to select our purchases we pass thousands of products that we never consider buying. There are at least ten laundry detergents not including the one we buy and who really believes that there is any difference? Some are brand names that you see advertised on TV. Others are generic. We don’t even buy detergent at the supermarket- saving that purchase for our once a month trip to Sam’s Club but somebody does and for some reason, the store’s customers want all those choices.
No real choice- just variety
Milk is another example. No commodity is more regulated than milk today. You can’t really have choice in milk because the government has set all the rules. You can’t have fresh, unpasteurized milk whatever you are willing to pay and the price is controlled. Still there are four or five brands of milk with slightly different prices. Somebody clearly cares about those brands or the store wouldn’t carry them yet I can’t believe that there is any difference. We pick the cheapest one and wonder why people buy the expensive. Once it is in the glass, who can tell?
Do you really need canned peas?
There are aisles full of canned good. These days, we hardly ever buy anything in cans. The exceptions are soups and beans. Vegetables for emergencies will be frozen, not canned and we don’t buy many of those. We do buy canned tomatoes for the winter, I remember. Maybe there was some purpose to canned goods years ago but today, who needs them?
The produce section is a wonder but with all those choices, what we actually buy is limited. We usually buy zucchini, asparagus, broccoli and green beans. I’s nice to have the chilies, tomatillos, eggplant and so on but most of the time we leave them on the shelf. The organic section we ignore completely. Who needs that overpriced, feel good stuff. Strangely, we never see anybody actually buying it.
In the meat section, there are specialty products already breaded and stuffed for immediate preparation. While appealing, they actually taste stale when you get them home and fix them and the actual time it would take to stuff or bread something is marginal so we stay simple. We stick with the basics.
The list goes on
That is only a small inspection of the incredible range of products in our neighborhood supermarket. There are sauces and condiments that couldn’t have been imagined in an American grocery store fifty years ago. I peruse those shelves with wonder these days. Once in a great while, I’ll see a recipe that calls for fish sauce or coconut cream and it is nice to know that if I really want it, I can get it but I can’t help wondering who actually buys that stuff.
This is the modern, multicultural America with sushi shops almost as frequent as Starbucks and I’m not complaining. I love the variety and vitality of new ideas. I don’t really want to go back to the kinds of choices I saw on the supermarket shelves when I was a kid back in the 50’s. It is just when I see all those choices and the amount of expensive real estate devoted to displaying this vast array of products, I can’t help asking.