On my last visit to the grocery store, I witnessed a mother at the cashier in front of me react to her receipt in a way that depicts how I presume a lot of us feel after we spend hundreds of dollars on food shopping. As she scanned the items on the long scroll, she grimaced, shook her head, rolled her eyes and, finally, after breathing a long and audible sigh, banished the receipt to the depths of her purse. Life would go on. After all, it had to - there was a long line of other shoppers also arriving at the counter for their weekly handover of hundreds of dollars in exchange for their sustenance.
I now know that I am not alone in my GSSD: Grocery-Spending-Stress-Disorder. And so, instead of dedicating my column this week to a rousing point or answering a reader, I find the need to vent on behalf of all receipt-shocked food shoppers everywhere.
Sure, food is essential to our survival and all. But that doesn’t make spending tons of money on it any easier. In fact, it makes it worse! If I treated food shopping as a survival thing, I’d only be putting eggs, milk and bread in my cart. Since I envision actual dinners when I shop, everything is essential…right down to that four-dollar handful of slivered almonds (no, you cannot sliver almonds yourself. Apparently there’s a revolutionary machine that slivers all the worlds’ almonds and it costs millions of dollars to run it). The point is, shopping for “what I need” is not a working grocery-shopping philosophy. Chummus is probably a good example. Can’t we all agree that this completely non-essential dip (or main course, if you ask my husband) is critical?
The hard part is if you’re actually trying to maintain a somewhat healthy home. All the good, nutritional stuff is so ridiculously pricey. When I happen to find something healthy that’s reasonably priced and worthy of stocking up on, it’s usually because whatever is in that cheap little package can only serve half a person. Anything I reach for that’s healthy is practically screaming, “Are you suuuuuuure you can afford my fat-freeness?” Making a delicious produce-filled salad should not cost more than macaroni and cheese! And “light” mayo should not come with a heavier price than the “real thing.” Anything with fewer calories should be cheaper. Makes sense to me.
And then there’s baby food. You can’t exactly skimp on baby food. Sure you can make your own mashed veggies, but who has the time for that? I remember when my son transitioned to jar food. The bottles actually had a price of cents, not dollars. But of course, this would be much more exciting if you didn’t have to buy, oh, about a bajillion of them! And what about formula? “Here, honey, take a sip!” Fifty two cents. “Keep drinking!” Sixty eight cents. Five dollars later: “Alllll doooooone!” Mommy is smiling, but considering nursing exclusively until the kid’s in elementary school. And maybe she’s going to start mashing her own veggies after all.
Of course, the height of my GSSD is when I have to restock on things like balsamic vinegar and those Clorox wipes I just can’t live without (and no, spraying a paper-towel is not the same!).
But the real trauma is once all the food is home, where all my grocery-store findings turn into breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Because I recall the prices in the store, I’m very aware of how much of what I bought doesn’t actually end up in stomachs! The result is that when I’m in the grocery, I actually imagine about 1/3 of what I am buying rotting in the back of the fruit bin or mashed to the floor or on someone’s unfinished plate. Sometimes after cutting a salad, I look at the vegetable scrapings and think, “I could tape it all together and get two peppers out of this stuff!” Oh, the agony!
Alas, as a food-dependant member of the human species, I know all this penny-conscious food distress is no way to live. Food is a fact of life, much like the no-less-expensive roof over our heads. So, first of all, a shout-out to my incredibly gifted grocery-shopping husband who, aside for following my grocery lists with great care, doesn’t have food-spending-nausea like I do and always introduces exciting new products to our kitchen. If it weren’t for his ability to buy, I would never know about squeezable wasabi sauce (talk about “essentials” - I still don’t know what it’s for, since we never eat sushi!).
For me, the only therapy is having lots of guests to enjoy the food – lifting it from mere family survival to spiritual purpose and lasting memories (stop laughing, I mean it!). Also, I know I should be thankful to live in land of bountiful resources and food options. The fact that I have the option to buy mini-spinach soufflés for a nutritional and filling lunch is a luxury not afforded to millions of people all over the world. But then again, if I were thinking of world hunger, I’d be saving every little bit of “real food” before it ended up on the floor or rotting in the fridge or on someone’s unfinished plate.
To all the households out there with victims of GSSD, here’s my advice: Be as budgeted with your grocery shopping as is realistic. When it’s over, try not to grimace at your innocent receipt. Most importantly, before you go on a permanent liquid diet or start growing your own vegetables, realize that, although the pricey food we buy gets quickly consumed, it is the edible foundation of both the stomachs and souls that make up our homes.