Shopping at a Grocery Store

March 4, 2008

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It’s Saturday afternoon and my husband and I just returned from the discount grocery store. The store was packed. What is it about noon on Saturday that brings out the crazies? I always thought that around ten on a weeknight would be crazy time. Oh well, we were able to steer around the giant carts full of Doritos and find ourselves some whole wheat pretzels, date and walnut cereal, and seventy nine cent yoghurt. So how can I help you navigate through the crazy aisles of your local grocery store? How can I teach you to make grocery shopping a pleasant experience.

It has almost become a cliché, but it can be very daunting to walk into a grocery store for the first one hundred times after you return to the United States. The aisles and aisles of choices are overwhelming. The smells are new. The vegetables seem foreign (the papayas are oddly colored and so small, and the bananas are boringly bland). The crazy amount of cereal choices makes your head spin. Even though in your former life you were able to navigate confidently through a busy market, the quiet background music and organized rows of a grocery store can throw you for a loop.

I’ve identified several main hindrances to a pleasurable grocery store experience: not knowing what to choose, self-checkout machines, and feelings of disgust over the sheer affluence and waste in the United States. Automatic checkout I will cover later. Feeling comfortable with my choices, and not getting overwhelmed has taken me around five years to get down. But those initial all encompassing fears passed pretty quickly. In general I would say, like most things, prepare before you go into the situation. Make a list and then follow it. Then when you get to the store, be willing to try everything until you decide on a brand or a certain type. Those two pieces of advice are actually novel for a lot of young Americans. They also feel overwhelmed when first shopping on their own, and they also make a lot of unhealthy or expensive choices.

I can give you some general guidelines. Buy whole wheat things, and no not died brown things, or wheat things—only things that say “whole wheat.” Buy extra virgin olive oil for sautéing and salads, and canola oil for baking. Forget vegetable oil and Crisco. Buy butter with no trans fats—I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter or Smart Balance. Buy sea salt and a pepper grinder for good, cheap flavor. Buy bran cereal or at least whole grain cereal. Buy real fruit juice, not juice cocktails with like twenty three percent juice or whatever. Buy lots of fruits and vegetables. If not fresh, then frozen is the next best thing, and then canned really isn’t too bad as far as nutrients are concerned. It’s just bad where taste is concerned. Eat lots of low fat yoghurt, drink lots of low fat milk, and even have some low fat cheese. The protein in milk helps digest food, and may even help lose those the freshmen fifteen or the furlough fifty. The calcium is also good for your bones, and yoghurt has “good things” (that’s about as technical as I get) for your immune system. Brown rice and whole wheat pasta are good. It might be hard to love at first, but it will come with time. Only drink soda occasionally (this might be easy when they don’t have the brand that you grew up drinking, or when the coke tastes funny). It might be tempting to try lots of alcohol now that you are out from under your parent’s roof, and away from school rules. Please don’t be dumb. It’s not fun getting plastered, and it’s an empty way to find friends. If you want to drink, please, please drink in moderation. But, drinking water is so good for you.

While I’m thinking about the alcohol subject, I wanted to mention, if you are at a party (drinking alcohol or water or seven up), always keep a hand on your cup. Or if you forget and leave your cup somewhere, just ditch it. You never know what people could slip into your glass. Or so says my sorority friend. I know there is a lot here that I am not covering. I would love to get into more, but I am not trained, certified, or even very experienced. Find someone who is.
The feelings of disgust are harder to identify and get rid of. When my family came on furlough my Junior Year of High School I would walk into houses with beautiful matching furniture and get a little jealous. We were sitting on ugly hand me downs while people were paying $5,000 on a bedroom set. But I realize now that was an awful attitude. I was living in a palatial house with luxurious, beautiful things compared to the people I knew in Papua New Guinea. So then it was easy to get mad at people for not giving more away. And, for spending more at Starbucks then our house help made in a whole day. But it is not right for me to be self-righteously preoccupied with what other people should and shouldn’t do. They have to live according to the things God is dealing with them for. I have to live according to what I know. If you find yourself acting and feeling the same way, admit that it is wrong. And then spend the time kindly exposing people to the reality of people around them. I’ve had friends who have been impacted by the Operation Christmas Child videos or the End of the Spear movie. Anything that doesn’t make you look like you think you are better is very effective.

It’s hard I know, but in time you will adjust and learn. And hopefully you will use your experiences to better the world around you.

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