ADVENTURES – RELUCTANT ONES – IN THE SHOPPING TRADE

Burlington County Times, June 17, 2002

My husband broke his foot a couple of months ago. He wasn’t doing anything he
heroic, like saving someone from a burning building. He wasn’t doing anything fun, like skiing. He wasn’t even doing anything foolhardy, like rock climbing. No, he was just getting the mail.

According to him, one of the worst parts about breaking his foot is that he can no longer tease my mother, who did something similar last year. To me, the worst part is that I have to do the food shopping.

I’ve always disliked food shopping. Not eating, not preparing, just shopping. I’m sure there’s some deep-seated psychological reason, especially since my parents always shlepped me with them to go food shopping when I was a kid and would have much rather been playing with my friends or watching TV. All I know is that the bright lights, the incessant background music, the bewildering array of choices all combine to make a visit to the supermarket less appealing to me than root canal. Without anesthesia.

My husband loves to food shop. For him, it’s the thrill of the chase. He clips coupons and compares prices. He finds it exciting to discover a new product that tastes better, has less fat, and is cheaper than one we always buy.

If we were still in a cave, he’d be the gatherer and I the hunter. He takes his time to find just the right product at just the right price. I run in, grab the first thing on the shelf, and run out before the saber-toothed tiger catches me.

Remember the classic episode of “I Love Lucy,” the one in which Lucy and Ethel bet Ricky and Fred that they could do a better job earning a salary than the boys could keeping house? Most people know it as the “chocolate factory” episode. Or the “exploding instant rice” one. Anyway, put me in the role of Ricky. A normally intelligent person, I am helpless when faced with a decision about which brand of paper towels to buy. (I usually pick the one that matches the colors in the kitchen.)

Even my kids are better at food shopping than I am. They know which supermarket carries granola without raisins and which one has the best selection of cheese sticks.

My husband made a gallant try at limping down the grocery store aisles, and our older son came with him to carry the bags. But I couldn’t keep telling him that he had to stay off his foot if he wanted it to heal, and then send him out to do errands. So I’m now doing the food shopping.

The first time, our son came with me. I don’t think he’ll volunteer again. He pretended not to know me as I blocked the aisles checking to see if the coupon we had was for the 16 oz. or 8 oz. container of sour cream; and my muttering under my breath the whole time did not endear me to him at all.

So now I’m on my own. The first time, I used the coupons, but forgot to pay with the scrip we buy ahead of time. The second time, I remembered the scrip, but forgot to bring the coupons. It was amazing how much easier it was to shop when I didn’t have to keep rummaging in the coupon folder.

The last time I went to the supermarket, I was debating whether to get some watermelon when I realized that it was only May. Why was there watermelon available? For that matter, why were there strawberries and asparagus from California? Couldn’t we wait two weeks until our native New Jersey ones were ripe?

I’ve always looked forward to summer fruits and vegetables. It’s a thrill to buy the first grapes or cherries or corn. But that thrill is gone now that we can buy South American peaches and plums in January. How can we anticipate picking blackberries in Tabernacle when we can pick them up any time of year in a supermarket?

Forget global warming; we now have global produce. The global village is the result of more than just the influences of American mass media on the rest of the world; it’s the influence of mass transportation, preservatives, and refrigeration on the eating habits of Americans.

I didn’t buy any watermelon that day. Or cherries. Or corn. I decided to wait until they show up in the few roadside farmers’ markets that are still in business. We need something to look forward to. And, after all, we are the Garden State.

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