My husband, Gene, is feeling “like a laboratory rat.” It all started with a grocery shopping trip two days ago.
I arrived first at Trader Joe’s, but after parking, putting on my mask, and walking past several rows of cars, I noticed a long line of socially-distanced, thin, white people patiently waiting their turn to go up and down those skinny aisles. I, too, am white (and yes, I, too, listen to NPR), but I haven’t been thin for some time and I wasn’t feeling patient. So, I walked back to the car, drove south about 100 yards, and pulled into a spot near Whole Foods.
I walked in and after being kindly directed to a clean shopping cart, I took a breath and looked around. It was like Disneyland for grocery shoppers! I had been to Whole Foods, but always for something special, like the apple tarts I took to a picnic, the multi-colored beets I used in a book club salad, and the plant-based “Italian” sausage I added to a spaghetti pie for a vegan friend.
I usually work my way from one side of a grocery store to produce. This was not one of those times. I felt like Alice in Wonderland, walking in no particular direction, watching the interesting masked people, and gathering things on my list. Because hardly any of the brands I buy at Safeway were on the shelves or in the freezer (and everything looked beautiful or at least interesting), I decided to buy two or three different kinds of soup, spaghetti, spaghetti sauce, turkey sausage, coffee, bacon, breakfast sausage, waffles, even laundry detergent for us to try.
It was freeing to know that I didn’t have to read every label to know that everything I put in the shopping cart was antibiotics- and hormone-free, organic (in the real sense), and safe for the environment.
And the shoppers were nearly as interesting as the store itself. There were “all sorts and conditions of men,” as the Episcopal collect says, people of all colors and types, some who looked like professional athletes. It made me realize that even if you were raised in a culture of comfort food (my mother put butter on everything) or have limited means, you can choose to make healthy food a priority over other things.
I got to the check-out stand and prayed that the sticker shock wouldn’t make me choke. The total was $375.00. I hadn’t spent that much in one grocery trip since I had three children at home!
But we humans have an amazing capacity for rationalizing. And I began to construct my argument:
- At Whole Foods, all the food has been screened before being bought for the store, so you don’t waste time or money checking ingredients;
- The store is conveniently located, saving you time and gas;
- Whole Foods is owned by Amazon, so I get an extra 10% off sale items because I’m an Amazon Prime member (a total of $30.18 this trip or 8% of my bill)).
- The experience is so pleasant, I can hardly wait to return, saving the annoying dance to the song, “Who’s Going to Go?”
- Of course, the bill was higher than usual; I bought extra samples of some items, so we could try them. And I bought a salmon fillet, lamb chops, steaks, and…
- What’s the most important thing we have? Our health. Our kids all know this; they eat very well. Yes, we have fewer years left than they do, but let’s make them healthy!
Gene was horrified when I told him what the experience had cost in actual dollars. So I let it go, and waited.
That night, we ate reheated Whole Foods spare ribs ($14.64 and enough for four) with barbeque sauce, beans, and salad. The ribs were the tenderest, tastiest ribs we’ve had in a long time. Gene fried the maple bacon yesterday morning, and we had it on peanut butter toast – the thing should be outlawed! Last night, he cooked spaghetti sauce with one of the marinara sauces and a combination of the sweet and hot fresh turkey sausage, crumbled and browned. He added his usual browned fresh mushrooms, red pepper, garlic, and herbs, and served the sauce over Tuscan spaghetti, also from Whole Foods. It was amazing!
This morning, he made fluffy scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese and served them with the apple chicken sausage, blueberries, and sliced strawberries. You guessed it: awesome!
So, I think it’s fair to say that after some testing, we both know the food from Whole Foods tastes better! The blueberries are sweeter and firmer; the avocados have more flavor and a more buttery texture; the turkey sausage is more interesting; the waffles have more density, so you only want one, and bacon from the meat counter (which is one of the best “rides” at the market) is actually cheaper than the packaged variety we usually buy, and so thick and flavorful, one piece is enough. Oh, and those spareribs!
Now I’m a believer! And I think Gene is, too.