Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Fear and loathing in the grocery store

(With apologies to Hunter S. Thompson)

I have a complicated hate-hate relationship with the grocery store.

On the surface there's the not-so-unusual gripe. I just don't like the whole process: making a list, selecting coupons, driving to the store, grabbing a grubby shopping cart with an inevitably faulty wheel system, shuttling said cart through the store, waiting in line, paying too much money, loading the car, driving home, unloading the car, putting the groceries away.

Maybe it's just laziness; I don't know. This part of the problem seems rational, at least.

But then, you see, the deeper neuroses kick in.

Even as I'm dreading the shopping trip and loathing the experience as I'm experiencing it, I am berating myself. How in the world could I possibly be upset about living in such a privileged world, one in which I can get in my car and drive to one building that contains more food than most people in Africa see in their lifetime, I can select any food I want and pay for it without too much concern about the cost. I mean, really. How could I complain about this? What's worse, even though I engage in this line of Self-Recrimination of My Inner Spoiled Brat every week, I still dislike grocery shopping!

To make matters worse, while I'm shopping I become hypercritical about the products I'm buying. I mentally tally up the nutritional/sociopolitical points of the shopping cart and hope that I end up in the plus column: Broccoli, +5 points; apples, +3 points (although a fresh fruit, they're Red Delicious and thus pigeonhole me as a culinary dullard); organic soy milk for Sean, +5; low-fat milk for Jeff and me, +1; Oreos, -10; and so on. The divide between the diet I know I should follow and the choices I actually make is a little on the wide side.

But we're not done yet! Oh, not, not till we examine the macro issue of the largesse of the United States consumer culture. I become depressed at the thought of so much food, so much bad, unhealthy food in particular, so much waste, so much excessive packaging that can't be recycled. And of course it's not all under just the one roof I happen to be under; when I think about the duplication of this same store and all its contents throughout the United States, I'm overwhelmed.

Yet not overwhelmed enough to make any meaningful changes in my shopping habits. I did take a tiny, tiny, tiny step in the right direction by buying some cloth shopping bags, but sometimes I fear that such a small effort serves only to assuage my guilt. And, so, the cycle of loathing continues.

(I should have prefaced this post with a warning: "Excessive whining ahead".)