For most of my life, I have held to the notion that one (by which I mean "I") should go to the grocery store once a week. Clearly this routine would not work for everyone: for instance, if you live in the Big City and you walk or take the bus/tube/whatever everywhere, you're pretty much limited to what you can carry, but what you'd need for dinner today and breakfast tomorrow probably fits in a single sack, and you've already planned your route home to make sure you go by the store. And I have known families for whom once a week simply isn't enough, unless they have access to an armed personnel carrier, which is what it would take to haul a week's worth of food for that bunch. (Hence the "utility" in "sport-utility vehicle," one assumes.) For me, though, once a week works, except for those all-too-frequent times when I forget something that I will run out of in less than seven days. (At the moment, this item is shaving cream.)

While my actual grocery-getting routine is fairly ritualized, there are more variables than you might think, simply because no single store can possibly address all of my needs/wants/desires/perversities. So my grocery dollar gets divided mostly between a Homeland store (May and Britton) and a Crest store (23rd and Meridian). Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantage of going to two stores is obvious: transportation between points A and B. Figure ¼ gallon of gas; let's call it a buck. And there's more than a dollar's worth of difference between the stores.

Advantages of Homeland:

  • Walk-up ATM for my bank. (Crest is only two blocks from a bank branch, but I dislike drive-through ATMs.)
  • Greater selection of organic vegetables, which seem to deteriorate less quickly.
  • Has a relatively low-priced gas station next door.
  • Accepts American Express.
  • Clientele includes a large number of attractive, unaccompanied women.

Advantages of Crest:

  • Cheaper than everyone except maybe Walmart, and who wants to go to Walmart?
  • Self-checkout permits 25 items versus 20 for Homeland.
  • Is more likely to have items on my Must-Buy list on sale.
  • Doesn't pester me about affinity cards.
  • Shows a charming resistance to arbitrary price changes by vendors.

So about three weeks out of four, I'm hitting both stores on the same day, maybe two hours apart. I'm guessing that keeping my options open in this fashion costs me somewhere around $10-15 a month, which is well within the slop factor built into my food budget.

This is not to say, of course, that I've eliminated all potential sources of inconvenience and irritation during this bifurcated excursion. At the moment, if I want something reasonably close to a pound of ground beef, I have to get it from an actual butcher-shop staffer. The alternatives: cutting one of those horrid pre-packaged chubs down to size, buying a vacuum-sealed prepack that eats up freezer space, or buying the typical 1.3-pound package out on the shelf and exceeding the proportions for the recipe. This bothers me far more than the standard eight-bun, 10-frank mismatch, mostly because if I'm buying hot dogs, I'm probably slicing them up and dunking them into a pot of pork and beans.

A couple of elephants are waiting just outside the room: Whole Foods will be opening this fall, and the southwestern Sunflower Farmers Market chain plans to beat them to the punch with an opening on the last day of August. I can probably think of excuses not to go to Whole Foods, given its reputation for sky-high prices on hitherto-unseen goods, not to mention the snarled traffic at that end of Fort Chesapeake, but Sunflower is barely more than a mile from me and fits easily logistically, anyway into my current shopping routine. So anything here is subject to change in the next few weeks or so. Life is all about adaptation, anyway.

The Vent

  24 July 2011

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 Copyright © 2011 by Charles G. Hill