“Now and then it's good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.” --Guillaume Apollinaire

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Grocery Grievances

Today I am happy to buy groceries.  Why? Because I can.
I hate grocery shopping.  Whew, I'm glad that neither of my children can read yet because that statement would most certainly have sent one of them running to his father yelling, "Dad! Mommy said 'hate' and  made it bold and underlined, and we don't use that word! It's not a nice one!"  Oh well, if that statement earns me a time-out, then so be it.  I'm not too proud to confess my hatred of this task, and I would guess that many of you have similar feelings.

Since I really enjoy cooking, and I enjoy eating even more, I am quite surprised at how much I hate grocery shopping.  Nerd alert!  If you think I am at all cool, please just skip to the next paragraph.  I wouldn't want to ruin any illusions that you might have about me.  I take great pleasure in clipping coupons for the items I use, perusing the weekly sale flier, and planning out the meals for the week, and I always arrive at the store armed with a well-organized list that should, at least in theory, allow me to quickly and efficiently gather the items I need to prepare healthy and delicious meals for the next week and then to go about my merry way. 

In reality, the trip always takes longer than I planned. During the school year, I usually get groceries on Saturday afternoon or evening.  If you have never been to the grocery store at that time, please, I implore you to heed my advice: do not do it.  Ever.  I do realize that perhaps it would be a better idea to get the shopping trip over with on Friday evening, but at this point in my life, Friday nights are reserved solely for getting into my jammies and falling asleep on the couch at an embarrassingly early hour while the kids loudly engage in some pretend play involving cars or trains and a series of catastrophic crashes.  (Yes, I am fully aware of how lame I am. No need to point it out.)

After I have successfully made my way through the Saturday shopping crowd, I usually have to make at least one trip back across the store for something I missed.  It is not uncommon to find that at least one of the advertised sale items around which I so cleverly planned our meals for the week is out of stock. When I finally reach the cashier to check out, I usually realize that I have left my coupons in the car or once again forgotten my environmentally friendly reusable bags.  And I swear that it is utterly impossible for me to walk of there for less than $100 even on the days when my list does not include many extras like medications, hair product, greeting cards, or the ever important Power Gel or Sports Beans that my hubby, the triathlete, likes to add to the list.  We won't even talk about the pleasures of trying to get groceries with kids in tow.

Last weekend, however, I was happy to be in the grocery store. It was not a magical peaceful day when everything was in stock and there were no lines at the checkout, I was not surrounded with rainbows and unicorns, and no, I was not dreaming.  The grocery store was in its typical state of Saturday mayhem.  But on that day, I was simply grateful to have the opportunity to fill my cart and to marvel at the abundance with which I am blessed. 

Are you wondering how you too can feel good about spending a beautiful Saturday afternoon fighting crowds in the grocery store? I'll let you in on my secret tip: spend some time volunteering in a food pantry.  Last week, a colleague and I had the opportunity to do a service project with our middle school student council kids.  We traveled to Mel Trotter Ministries to volunteer for a few hours.  This organization provides many services to homeless and needy individuals and families in the community, one of which is a food pantry that clients are allowed to visit twice a month.  While we were there, we sorted food that had been donated and stocked shelves so that clients who were coming to get food during the weekly distribution hours would be able to find what they needed.

I was so proud of our students who were polite and respectful to staff and clients alike and who cheerfully did whatever they were asked.  When we got back to school and sat down together to process for a few minutes at the end of the day, I was impressed with the thoughts they shared about their experience working at the food pantry.
A few examples:
  • "Being there kind of made me think about how we are picky and we always want the best or the coolest clothes and stuff, and the people who were coming there today were happy just to be getting something to eat."
  • "I noticed that they had tons of certain things like cans of corn or beans, and Mary [who assigned them their jobs while we were there] told me that is because people donate the things that are cheapest to buy."
  • "I was glad that we can go to the grocery store and get what we want."
  • "I don't think I would want to eat a lot of that stuff! Did you see powdered milk? Gross!"
Reflecting on this conversation, I started to realize what I spoiled brat I am!  No exaggeration, I will not purchase a canned item if it is even a tiny bit dented.  I get annoyed that there is a six foot section of tortillas and I am not able to find the exact low-carb Weight Watcher friendly tortilla that I would like.  Oh, and you do not want to cross my path if the grape tomatoes are mushy or the store is out of reduced fat Italian blend shredded cheese. Blah, blah, blah, whatever. The list of grocery grievances could continue, but I think you probably get the point.

The magic moment that made this grocery trip pleasant? It was the moment I came to the realization that I can go to the grocery store any time of the day or week that is convenient for me; I do not need to arrive between the hours of 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM on Thursdays if I want to feed my family.  There are aisles and aisles and aisles of almost anything I could want and certainly all of the basics that I "need".  I can buy the exact brand and flavor of juice or cereal or corn and black bean salsa that I or my family prefer. For Pete's sake, there are thirty different salsas to choose from in the ethnic foods aisle not to mention the fresh varieties available in the deli!  I am not limited to castoffs or items that have been donated by generous individuals or businesses. If my kids are with me, I can afford to bribe them with a treat or splurge on the gallon of chocolate milk. Then, after I have finished loading up my cart and paid for my groceries without wondering which bill will have to wait until next month, I pile all of those wonderful groceries into my car and drive home.  I don't have to shove everything into my backpack or duffel bag and get on the bus, hop on my bike, or hoof it several blocks or more to get home.

Next time you are seething in the cereal aisle or having a meltdown in the frozen section, stop and think about how fortunate you are to be able to buy groceries at all.  I think you will be happy to be there too.


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  2. Love the post! I, too, have to remind myself of the everyday necessities I take for granted.
    I can totally relate to leaving the coupons and blue Meijer bags in the car..happens more times than not! :)