Saturday, July 14, 2007

Our groceries to admire.

Grocery shopping is always an adventure.

My grandma is not a big fan. She does it rarely, and with great consternation.

But I love it. I love the people watching, the dodging carts in the aisles, the picking out of produce, the existential wait in the checkout line.

Over time, I've even come up with a system that makes the whole thing even more pleasurable. It's guided by four years of self-made discovery.

The list.

With anything, the key is always preparation. Grocery shopping is no different, which is why your shopping list is so key. If you forget something, it should only your own fault - not the list's. My advice is keep track of needed items as soon as they spring up. Use the last of the coffee? Note it immediately (especially with coffee). And the method doesn't matter. I use a mix of text files and scraps of paper. When I hit the store, however, I usually have everything noted down on paper.

The store.

I'm not going to complain if you're a Wal-Mart person (not in this venue; to your face is another story), but I would recommend you head somewhere that has more of a local interest in the community you live in. And one must consider price. So I head to Meijer, knowing that they're semi-locally based (Grand Rapids) and provide the same deep discounts as the big chain stores. In fact, I'll put their prices against anyone's.

Jackson has the benefit of having two Meijers, but I stick to the one closest to the airport (the other, East End, store is too sterile, too Wal-Mart like). When Don and I lived at Granada it was super easy to whip into the store to pick something. But now we live across town; the drive is worth it, however, and I've got such a detailed mental map of the place that I can't abandon it. That, and there's this quirky greeter lady that wears balloon hats and yells at you when you enter and leave. Personality is key.

First things first.

There's some debate on how to approach your shopping: whether you should start at the back and work your way toward the checkout, or start right when you get in. My own philosophy is to start at the beginning because that's where the produce is, and produce is an excellent place to get in the mood for shopping. I'm all about fresh fruit and veggies, and Meijer has the largest, best produce section of any store I know. The regulars include bananas, broccoli, carrot sticks, apples, and sweet potatoes but can include green beens, tomatoes, asparagus, grapefruit, and squash, depending on sale prices. Also, don't neglect the discount shelf. A few bad grapes won't hurt a thing when the whole bunch is $0.49.

No meat, no man.

The deli and butcher is next, and here I usually look for items on sale, too. While I'm getting pretty sick of lunch meat, if ham or turkey is cheap enough I'll get it. I usually pick out some sort of fresh fish (white fish, walleye if it's cheap, perch, rainbow trout), stock up on chicken breast strips, and only grab red meat when I have a specific recipe in mind. In my Meijer the cheese and sausage is close to the meat, so I grab those on my way through.

OJ did it.

I go through at least one can of frozen orange juice a week, but I've noticed since last fall's citrus crop was damaged by frost, the price has jumped up dramatically. Luckily today I found some clearance grapefruit juice (with calcium!) on sale for $1, so I stocked up. The frozen section is a great place to grab fruits and veggies that maybe aren't in season, tater tots, frozen pizza (my roommates staple food), and any sweet treats.

This week only!

Meijer has this deal where, say, if you buy a crapload of items they'll give you a discounted price on the whole lot. Today's example included 10 yogurts for $4. In fine, small print they say "Down from $45/each," which means you're getting a discount of a nickel on each one. But the trick is you don't HAVE to buy 10 to get the discount. You can buy one and still get it at $0.40. I use this trick every time I step in the store, especially on basics like cereal, bread, crackers, pork & beans, tuna, and Gatorade. But never milk. Today they had two gallons of milk for $5, but I only go through a gallon every two weeks. That other milk will go to waste, but I still take advantage of the discount. I also think about items I can stock up on, like potato chips, and actually use the three-for-five bucks deal. Shit, why not? That means I won't have to buy them next week.

Sticking to it.

It's pretty hard to stick to a shopping list when discounts are everywhere. I know that every time I go shopping I will stray from the list in some way. This is natural. I don't even have to be hungry and I'll quickly go over-budget on grocery items. But as soon as you except this as fact it'll make the whole experience easier. Because I pay in cash, I make a mental list of my items' prices and keep track of the running total as I go along. This means that rarely will I be surprised when the check-out total rings up. There's no sin in grabbing a few extra cherries if they look sweet.

Check this out.

The checkout line is the place where most folks make their biggest shopping blunder. Instead of throwing every grocery item on the belt in random fashion, try placing similar items together. I think you'll find it makes the whole experience a better one, because it makes the checking-out easier on the cashier. Eggs and bread should go in the same bag because they're so fragile. This is key. You would place a watermellon and a bag of chips together only if you're a fool.

Also, a general sense of humanitarianism is needed during the whole process. Today a guy in a cast had two frozen dinner compared to my 16 or so items. So I let him go ahead of me. Why torture the bastard? I've got all day.

Using this overall strategy would make anyone rethink the foundation of modern supermarkets, but the important lesson is to do what works for you with a background sense of love of your fellow shopper.

My grandma hates Meijer because she think it's a constant battle: narrow aisles, ramming carts, cutting in line. It's a Roman system, but once you get the hang of it there will be less blood shed.

And a side note: shop at your farmer's market whenever you can. Stop by those roadside stands because a tomato fresh out of someone's garden will beat the pants off any store's selection.

Hey, I'm heading to the store. Need anything?

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