Inching Toward Simplicity: Pragmatics and Prose

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Best of Times and The Worst of Times (aka Today’s Supermarket Trip)

  • -My supermarket trip has me philosophizing today, and I am not alone in my Sunday reflections. This blog provokes a lot of thought, including the ending statement that, in our society, the power to buy…is the power to be.

The very politically incorrect movie Borat has a funny extra scene where an American man guides Borat through the dairy section of the supermarket. What is this?, asks Borat repeatedly as they walk the length of the aisle. His guide answers, with uncanny patience, Cheese, to every question. This happens at least 20 times. I hear non-Americans are stunned when they first see an American mega-supermarket. Sixteen kinds of cream cheese? 101 instant rice or pasta dishes? A whole aisle just for pet food?

Is this hell or nirvana?

It can be hell with a 5-year-old, with the constant task of negotiating what treats should be allowed, which are too unhealthy, and how to make the remaining 6 aisles fly by before Gavin, my mom, and I descend into a frothing megastore lunacy. Even without a child present, the experience is a barrage of brands, hype, and stressed-out shoppers. My feet ache and at the end I am throwing anything within easy grasp into my cart.

At the same time, I realize the privilege that we have in buying what we like—not just what nourishes us but what strikes our fancy. We opt for something new, seek out a brand that is particularly pleasing, compare calories and fat grams and come out with some sense of accomplishment and anticipation. We deposit a few boxes of Rice-a-Roni in the community food pantry box—hardly enough to balance out our big-eyed indulgences, but a nod in the right direction and a good lesson for Gavin.

Becoming vegetarian has complicated my shopping in some ways. I am a pesca vegetarian (still eating fish), and often wonder how full-throttle vegetarians (completely meatless) or vegans (no dairy or meat) do it. I have to think twice before I fall back on the old habits of chicken—a lot of seemingly meatless items like rice and vegetable soup contain chicken flavoring.

I don’t feel deprived. Our market has an entire health food section with loads of meatless choices. Even the so-called deprivation of meat is a privilege, because it is a choice. I think of the many in the world who must eat what they can manage to beg, borrow, or steal. I think of the many who don’t have the extra resources—the time, the education, the choice-centric lifestyle–to ponder ethics and make informed, globally-oriented decisions.

Our local store is, well, local. I have avoided going there for 2 reasons: the diminished choices (perhaps only 5 varieties of cream cheese!) and the limit on free time that seems to force one-stop shopping: somewhere that has a home goods aisle, a drugstore aisle, a greeting card aisle, etc. Maybe I will experiment with a shorter trip, wean myself down to fewer choices and less hassle. Maybe the time and energy I gain will let me make those extra trips for nonfood things, and still leave time and energy to spare. It is worth a shot.

This simplicity thing is a work in progress, and sometimes my idols are the people who make more sweeping choices. Yes, yes, the people who move to remote cabins to think, or even better to remote, war-torn countries to make a tangible difference. But sometimes my envy is of the more mundane simplistics—the single guy I read about in Choosing Simplicity who approached nutrition in the most pragmatic and economical ways. He ate primarily ramen noodles, varieties of protein mixed in for nutritional benefit. He saved money, he saved time, he saved the energy that I expend every 2 weeks on food choices. Or what about the woman who purchased a modest cottage, making the tiny square footage work by sleeping in a loft, paring down to only the most essential items? Having a family, at least a democratic family, definitely prevents some of the more radical choices, as different needs and preferences must be weighed.

And so, I continue to look for little ways to simplify. It’s funny to me that grocery delivery, a given when my mother’s mother was young, has come back. I’ve used the service (called Peapod here in Connecticut) and there are some inherent advantages: undistracted price comparisons (even a sort-by-price button!), the lack of random temptation, the ability to review your list and subtract as needed (it’s all just a thought process until you press the ‘confirm’ button). Still the same problem that you have with a smaller store, though: not everything you need pops up on your computer screen. No doubt the time is coming when it will.

I think a lot about how, with planning, a lot of things could be done differently. But today’s fast pace allows only a limited time for planning, and this forces choices that are less than ideal. Still, I relish the choices that might benefit my own use of time, the way our family spends its days, and maybe even in some cases the world at large. The food crowding our cabinets tonight is also food for thought. Maybe the trip was worth the aching feet.

Labels: , , , , ,


At 7/16/2007 5:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I now shop in an organic grocery store. This is a very different experience from the mega stores. It's small but it's brimming with healthy produce and quite a variety of produce at that! It seems to have everything I need and is never a stressful experience. Even the lighting is soothing!


Post a Comment

<< Home