This is the first of two posts that I wrote nearly three months ago, but didn't post because I didn't have enough material for the story to really go anywhere, until today, when I crossed the picket lines for laundry detergent. Now I'm hooked.
Today I acquainted myself with my new neighborhood grocery store. In Chicago, I had the luxury of living adjacent to the 24-hour Jewell, allowing me access day or night to virtually anything my gourmand little heart could desire. This led to a steady diet of Cheese Nips and Dreyer�s Grand (there called �Edy�s�) which lost me about 10 pounds combined with the breakneck pace of my grad program. I had been sizing up our Safeway ever since we began looking for apartments and today was to be the fateful day of our first meeting. I could tell simply from the late-nineties, yellow-tan stucco job that this was no down-the-street-from-the-projects, fake-watch-out-front-peddling, meat-and-potato-dispensing Midwestern Jewell. Clearly the full red letters proclaimed this an establishment for those who enjoyed culinary skill and a finer dining experience. This was not the sort of place you walk into at 12:30 am to buy easy-bake brownies at the self-check-out aisle; this was the sort of place that aging hippies and amateur chefs came to gather the ingredients for their latest forays into gourmet cooking. So I had prepared myself, purchasing the September issue of �Real Simple� while at the Container Store a few short days ago, and chosen recipes from their feature article on end-of-summer tomatoes. Armed with a list that would allow me to fake culinary street creds, I set aside the afternoon to learn the layout of my new agora.
The actual shopping was fairly simple, going up and down the rows, checking each sign to learn how items were grouped, checking the list over and over. The only real obstacles arose when I found they only had cocktail tomatoes, and not plum, which would suffice, but at additional cost. Also, since Jewell was owned by a competing conglomerate of grocery stores, all the brands were different. I had to translate all of my products into a new language. Instead of buying Kraft or Wisconsin cheddar, I got Tillamook with the California cheese sticker. Instead of Green Giant frozen spinach, I got Safeway. Instead of Jade or President�s Choice Thai peanut sauce I got San J. While these are not significant differences in fact, the packaging is entirely different. It took me two hours to locate the 25 or so items on my list because I had to verify that they in fact did not carry Jade or President�s Choice before I could go about finding the most suitable replacement product, checking both ingredients and price. Finicky ? Perhaps. But it's all part of the game. Once you let your guard down, the grocery store can get you--force you back to Cheese Nips and Rocky Road when you take your eye off the organic tofu. Extra Firm. That's how it's got to be.