Why Does Food Shopping Have to Be a Test?

Do you remember those tests back in school... either the IOWA test (if you're old like me) or the NATS (if you're younger than me) or the MCATS (if you're only old enough to be my child)?  Those tests always had reading comprehension where you would be given 4,000 minute details about a bus going to Oakland from Saskatchewan and you would have to maintain ridiculous focus while reading so you wouldn't miss anything. Well, grocery shopping has become just like that.  There are so many things you feel you should know, tricks that stores do to sell you things, research to be sure you're walking out with the best deal, and not to mention the fact that you want to eat healthy!  It's not so easy these days to know what to buy, when to buy it, where to find it or to have the time to get everything you need before the sun goes down.

Which brings me to my first pet peeve in food shopping: healthy and truly natural foods are always in a weird aisle with no label, in the back corner or on the top shelf.  Now let me tell you, the top shelf is a nightmare from hell if you're at all below six feet tall.  And how often is the product I want not pushed to the front so I have to practically bury my arm up to my Tom's of Maine natural deodorant armpit to get what  I need.

And then there's my even bigger pet peeve which is that what is actually within easy reach and at eye level is all the food that packs on weight, clogs your arteries, shortens your lifespan and tastes so good you want to eat ten servings in one sitting.  Now I'm not just talking about the end caps which in every grocery store are filled with fake food full of hydrogenated oils that is no cheaper than anything in the aisles.  The end caps are just what they have extra of, or what they think you will be conned into buying in greater quantities.  Like the 10 for $10.00 ploy.  You can still buy one for $1.00.  You don't have to buy 10, but it convinces you too, almost like a subliminal suggestion.  Like I need 10 packages of bread crumbs! But to be faced with brownie mix, cheddar cheese rice cakes, chocolate pudding and egg custard in front of my nose while I'm reaching for the sunflower seeds- come ON people!

OK, so Whole Foods isn't quite as bad as your local Stop and Shop, Shaw's or Market Basket, all of which are carrying more natural options ... if you bring a flashlight to find them.  But I think we all agree that Whole Foods takes a whole lot more paycheck to put food on the table.  Just the other day I was in Wegman's oohing and ahhing like everyone else at the 45 check out stations and the fresh-squeezing juice stand.  I came round a corner and face to face with one of my clients, who rather abruptly shoved the six packages of half-price Christmas cookies under the lettuce in her shopping cart.  Now, just above the half-price Christmas cookies ... well, actually about four feet above, were some wonderful oatmeal raisin organic cookies.  So why didn't she choose those?  Because they were twice the price, half the size package and she is only 5'2" and isn't about to stand on her shopping cart or corral some wandering basketball player into helping her shop.

And do you actually stand in the aisle and read the ingredients and the product shelf label?  You should if you're not mowed down by those STUPID shopping carts with the car on the front for the screaming bratty child to launch Playmobile arrows at you while you're bending over examining the shelf label.  I was in Wegman's yet again, and had my foot run over by a handicapped nonagenarian flying around a corner of the bread aisle as I was reading the label on some organic bread.

But labels really are important.  There are things to avoid (hydrogenated anything, partially anything, concentrates) and things to look for (no preservatives or words you can't pronounce).  Shelf labels are the way to know if you're actually getting the best deal.  You can even compare from one store to another now with their online shopping options.  On a shelf label, you want to look at the left of the label where it tells you how much the item is per quantity.  Then compare that to all others.  For instance in BJ's you would think that Bounty paper towels are the cheapest because it's a huge package of 12 rolls for $15.00 ($1.25 each for those of us who are math-illiterate).  But if you look at the left of the label, it tells you that they are $1.50 per 100 sheets while the Bernard and Jensen brand (which is actually "B.J"'s brand is only 85 cents per 100 sheets, so despite the fact that the BJ's brand is a bigger package and more expensive, it's actually cheaper.

This is true for everything from olive oil to tofu to Rice Krispies.  So you can compare not just store to store, but brand to brand.  When you do it this way, you'll discover that many natural and organic options are actually cheaper per unit.  I found that the organic olive oil was actually 30% cheaper than any other conventional olive oil at my local store.

And then there are local farms, specials which can be frozen and sharing larger purchases with a friend to save some money.  I've been a fan for years of Trader Joe's, but I have to say that getting organic produce at Price Chopper is worth it when I get to fill up my car for 50 cents a gallon.  And don't forget vegetable washes and Kangen Water 11.5, both of which remove pesticide residue and other contaminants that water alone can't.  It makes settling for conventional produce and fruit occasionally a healthier option... especially when the cherries look so yummy!!!!

And my last pet peeve?  The fact that the real purpose of computerized self-checkout is to allow stores to get rid of employees.  If you really want to save time and money, go to a real person where they are faster, know the sales, will often slide a discount card for you if you don't have one, and can tell you which days of the week the fish gets delivered.  Plus I have to confess ... I just love to examine what everyone else in line is getting!