Shopping Frenzy

Posted: June 19th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Housewife Superhero, Misc Neuroses | 3 Comments »

Used to be politics at the grocery store was about campaigning out front and kissing babies. These days it’s in the aisles, and can take the joy out of shopping faster than a checker can say, “Debit or credit?”

I gratefully vacated the house early this morning to allow our brigade of house cleaners ample space to do their thing. Kate was at school so Paigey and I headed for Berkeley Bowl. We were desperately lacking anything leafy, fresh, or in need of refrigeration. (Children probably can live off of mini peanut butter sandwich crackers, but I’d rather not test that concept out on my kid.)

Despite some of the agro-hippie experiences I’ve had at Berkeley Bowl, it’s an undeniable bastion of produce, ethnic foods, groovy herbs, tinctures, green cleaning products, organic cosmetics and gourmet cheeses, micro-brews, seaweed, bulk quinoa, grass-fed meats, artisan yogurts–you-name-it. Plus you can get a coffee and a decent-tasting vegan pastry to quell your morning hungries as you shop. Even with its hassle factor, Berkeley Bowl makes you thank your stars that you live in a small rental house where the public schools suck versus anywhere else in North America.

Was a time when you had a list and just toodled along and picked up what you needed, right? Any brand issues were likely settled by choosing whatever it was your mom used, or getting what’s on sale. But these days, for me, it just ain’t that easy. Well, at least today it wasn’t.

My first quandary was in my apple purchase. I was able to cut through the 3,271 varieties of apples Berkeley Bowl carries in order to get Fuji apples, which Kate–child of foodies that she is–requests by name. But side-by-side are the bins of organic and non-organic Fuji apples.

Normally I’d just get organic, but I happened to randomly read the little sticker on them and saw they were from Chile. So, not local. The traditionally grown apples were from Washington state. Close by, and they actually looked much fresher and tastier than the organic ones. The organic ones were pale and starting to feel slightly spongey. I figured they were picked long  enough ago for them to make the long voyage from Chile all the way to Berkeley. You could actually see their jet lag.

I’ve got this nifty wallet-sized card that tells me what produce it’s okay to buy traditionally-grown–since they don’t require lots of pesticides–and what you should buy organic. Bananas, for instance, you don’t have to buy organic. Maybe ’cause-a the thick peel?! Strawberries on the other hand you should always buy organic. I think they’re mostly water and slurp up all those chemicals like sponges. I mean, don’t take my word for any of this. These are all the stories that I think I’ve maybe heard but likely just made up in my head.

Of course, the handy wallet-sized thing lives unhandily on our fridge, not in my wallet. It’s been there since my days of wanting the nanny to use it on her rare outings to the store for us. (That is, when we had a nanny.) Some day when I’m good and ready I’ll move it to my wallet where it can be of some use.

Anyway, Apple Crisis 2008 included the remembrance that apples require lots of pesticides. Though I countered that with the consideration that most farmers these days must be trying to keep chemical use down. And in Washington state of all places they’re likely to use groovy apple-growin’ practices, right? Maybe their farm is just barely under the limit for being qualified for organic status. (Yes, I truly had this thought.) Maybe I’m losing my mind by over-thinking this miniscule purchase. Wait, yes. I’m sure I am.

Before I was arrested for loitering in the apple aisle, I ended up getting the limp Chilean organic apples.

Then I was on to acquire the 24 other items on my list…

Pineapples sent me into another tailspin. They truly have five varieties and I couldn’t tell what properties constitute a good pineapple. I know pulling the center leaves out easily means it’s ripe, but many of them seemed over-ripe. I tried to remember if I needed these to be organic and decided I didn’t. The Del Monte pineapples looked decent, but I recently saw some 60 Minutes episode about how some of the big fruit companies are supporting large rebel factions by paying them off to let them do business in third-world countries. Or something like that.

I don’t even remember what kind of pineapple I got. I think I got one from Costa Rica, since I’d like to go there some day. May God forgive me if in buying it I’ve helped put a new machine gun in the hands of an eight-year old guerilla warrior. Hopefully it’ll at least be a good sweet pineapple

So as not to be more terrifically boring than I already am–or to incite fear in the hearts of my loved one that I’ve finally truly lost it–I’ll spare you a detailed run-down of all the other items I purchased. I’m sure there are some much better blogs that recount grocery lists. But I do have to mention my bread-buying efforts.

A gal wants a nice sliced sourdough, right? What can be so hard? I picked up a brand I think I’ve bought before. Then I notice that it wasn’t called Santa Cruz Bakery, but San Luis Bakery–though in a similar bluff-the-buyer font. I hate when companies try to rook you into buying their wannabe brands. (Please note that “wannabe” is in my blog software’s dictionary because it doesn’t have a squiggly line under it to indicate it’s misspelled. How weird is that?)

Anyway, I picked up another loaf from a place called something like El Faro Santa Cruz Bakery, which had a little amateurish sketch of a moustachioed baker in front of a wood hearth. Looked totally small-time hand-crafted, yadda yadda. But when I turned it over it turns out their attempts to pimp their bread as artisan are totally bogus. It’s made by Sara Lee! Out of St. Louis!

So then I assumed the other one, the San Luis Sourdough, must be made in California in San Luis Obispo. Nope. Also from St. Louis. And another Sara Lee product!

Is Sara Lee using the San Luis brand to drive discerning shoppers to their other more artisany looking brand? Am I becoming a paranoid conspiracy theorist? Does Sara Lee own my soul? Probably, but it’d take a lot of fine print reading to figure it out. And as far as I can tell, I’m nowhere near the St. Louis arch. I don’t think.

I mean, Avon owns Keihl’s and Ford owns Volvo. Weirder things have happened.

At any rate, I guess where this now-kinda-embarrassed-to-have-to-have-shared-it experience got me is the realization it’d be so much easier to shop at Wal-Mart and buy Lunchables and Ding Dongs for my family instead of reading labels to scour out any trace of dairy or soy, or concerning myself with organizations that are decimating rain forests while their executives lunch on spotted owl. (Potential solution?: Move to St. Louis.)

I mean, I swear I’m not even that political. Have I just been living in California too long? (Case in point, yesterday when I asked Kate if she’d like to go to the zoo with her friend Bowen she said, “Yeah! That’d be awesome!” Perhaps I should read the proverbial writing on the wall…) What I want to know is how does someone who really is clued into all this–not just straining to remember what their absent wallet-sized card tells them to do–manage to shop? It’s paralyzing!

With my grocery adventure behind me I went to the brilliantly named maternity and baby store Waddle and Swaddle, in search of some swaddling blankets that Paige would not spontaneously combust in when we’re in the summer swampland of the East Coast. A cute pair of tights I was looking at for Kate proclaimed they were “made with love in China.”

It made me think of a blurb I heard on NPR recently: There’s a factory in China that produces “Free Tibet” bumper stickers. Fucked up, but hilarious,

Through my sister’s films I know enough about the human rights injustices the Chinese have dealt the Tibetans. Enough to make me sometimes kinda think about maybe not buying things that are made in China. It’s rate, but I sometimes do think of it. But something about the “made with love” thing was a bit much for me. It felt like an attempt at a work-around to reel you in. ‘Made by Nazis with love.’ Alas, no cute tights for Katie. (Though I guess if I really liked them I probably would’ve gotten them. See? My political intentions are flexible.)

After my two forays into local stores left me feeling like the last Californian who thinks about this stuff while shopping but still shaves her armpits, I made my way to Target, hoping the Rosie’s organic free range chicken in the trunk wasn’t breeding free range bacteria in the unusually hot weather.

Target provided a much-needed familiar consumer palate-cleanser. (When Paige and I miss a week of shopping at Target, the folks there nearly call to check on us that we’re alright.) The huge red doors flew open to greet us, and we rolled happily into our air conditioned, well-lit home away from home. Where, no doubt, after 20 minutes I likely managed to undo any of the thoughtful consumer shopping I’d spent the previous two hours wrangling with.

Ah well. Baby steps, right?


3 Comments on “Shopping Frenzy”

  1. 1 tony saiz said at 6:03 am on June 21st, 2008:


    Please rest assured that when you buy any Del Monte Fresh Produce product (pineapples, bananas, melons, and other fruits) you support the welfare and well-being of our many employees in Costa Rica and Guatemala who enjoy a much higher standard of living in the agricultural sector than many of their counterparts in other companies in this sector.

    Del Monte Fresh Produce has never “support(ed) large rebel factions by paying them off…” or anything of the kind. I invite you and anyone else to contact me or any other Del Monte Fresh Produce employee on this or any other question regarding our company and products.

    All the best, and keep eating healthy.

    Tony Saiz
    Vice President-Internal Audit
    Del Monte Fresh Produce
    Miami, Fl.

  2. 2 Nell said at 9:46 am on June 21st, 2008:

    Wow. Do you feel like Del Monte Inc is stalking you now? :)

  3. 3 Julie said at 8:32 am on July 6th, 2008:

    ahahaha! on the other hand you did extol the virtues of Target’s safe shopping environment. where’s your letter for that, HUH?

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