Modern Day Foraging: Grocery Adventures
Apologies as I’ve been remiss with my posting recently. I think I’ve been so distracted by this long stretch of amazing Seattle sun that any mental excuse to be outside and not in front of the computer has been made (and meekly accepted) these last few weeks. Personally, there is just something about the combination of depressing rainy weather and severe Vitamin D deficiency that is so much more conducive towards productivity—so much so that the opposite also seems to hold true. This explains why I’ve spent so many of these summer days reading or performing outside tasks rather than sitting in front of the computer writing.
But that’s another post altogether.
Anyhow, it’s September, which means it’s time to get back to work. Fall is here. The football season has started, kids are back in school, and I’m seeing Halloween décor in the stores. The leaves are starting to turn. It’s time to get serious.
I thought I’d kick things off this fall with the serious topic of… grocery shopping! You see this seemingly mundane topic is ubiquitous. Everyone’s gotta do it. But how and where we shop for our weekly groceries reveals a lot about us. And while grocery shopping is one of the primary domains and responsibilities of this American Taitai, it’s not exactly one of my most favorite things to do. It’s right up there with filling up the gas tank or Target/Costco toilet paper runs. Not super exciting, but certainly part of my weekly routine.
I spend a good deal of the week searching for deals and foraging for food among Seattle’s various supermarkets, both conventional and natural. It’s probably not the most efficient process, but there are certain products that are only available at certain stores, even among the various natural markets. And since moving back to Seattle, I’ve become acutely aware of, and re-acclimated with, a distinct subculture prevalent in many Seattle neighborhoods: the progressive, affluent, organic veggie-eating, SUV-hybrid-driving grocery shopper who always has his/her reusable shopping bag in tow.
When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, there was just the regular grocery store like Safeway, and I don’t think we ever ate any organic vegetables as kids. So I’ve had my fair share of pesticides, and so far, it’s been relatively ok. But over the last 20 years, the proliferation of natural markets has been nothing short of astonishing. And Seattle is no exception. We have a high per capita concentration of Whole Foods (aka: “Whole Paycheck”), Co-ops, and farmers markets that sell organic produce and natural products. The local Seattle Co-op closest to our house now is the PCC market with the “Label GMO Foods” petition out front.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love Whole Foods. When DH and I were dating long-distance, one of our first conversations was about the Seattle neighborhood that my family lived in, and the Whole Foods that opened just down the block. DH mentioned that he always shopped for his vitamins at that particular store, and remarked how funny it was that we probably passed each other among the aisles when I would visit Seattle on vacation.
Who knew that Whole Foods would have such a profound impact on our relationship, and that it still maintains its iconic presence in our weekly routine.
Though, these days, it’s slightly less romantic. Take our conversation this past weekend:
Me (Taskmaster voice): “So, we need to make at least two stops to do all the grocery shopping today. You brought the water jugs, right?”
DH (Eyes rolling while driving): “Yes, I got the jugs. But can’t we just consolidate the week’s shopping into one store?”
Me: “Hm… let me think… No because we have to stop at Whole Paycheck since they’re the only ones that sell the organic arugula in the one-pound tub. And we need more chia seeds and vitamins. Oh, and we need to get the reverse-osmosis water jugs refilled.”
DH: “Ok, fine so let’s just hit the Whole Foods.”
Me: “Yes, but we also need real bread. I can’t eat any of that whole grain cardboard they sell at Whole Foods and PCC. I also need the regular English muffins with the preservatives to last through the whole week!”
DH (Checking watch): “Fine fine, Whole Foods and QFC then. Two stops, but I’m cutting you off at two stops.”
Me (Negotiating voice): “Ok. But you know that the produce and fruit from PCC tastes way better. You said so yourself. It’s on the way home. Let’s see how we feel after Whole Foods and QFC? Oh, and don’t forget, we need regular bananas. They’re expensive at PCC so make sure to pick some up here.”
Poor DH gives me the sad look because he’s missing precious minutes of the football game, and I take pity. We make the one stop and I compromise with the barely edible, $7, preservative-free whole grain bread at Whole Paycheck. Our weekly grocery scavenger hunt was accomplished.
I never thought of myself as a health-freak who buys reverse-osmosis water in my BPA-free jug on a weekly basis. But apparently I’ve adapted. Seattle and its healthier lifestyle have slowly infiltrated my behavior. When I lived in Hong Kong, nothing I ate was organic (almost all the produce sold in Hong Kong came from China) and I prided myself in eating crap that tasted delicious, but had little to no nutritional value. I also felt like crap, but I guess that’s what you get when you eat almost every single meal out for six-and-a-half years.
But since moving back, I’ve been eating a lot better. And I must admit that I also feel a whole lot better. This behavioral change comes from being married to someone who is a self-admitted health-nut, and living in a city like Seattle.
Now, all of this is great. We should all try to eat healthier. But my dilemma is with the actual cost of eating better and healthier. Shopping at natural markets like Whole Paycheck is expensive. Organic options are pricey and I’ll be honest, I have a slight guilt problem buying into the whole movement. I guess it boils down to my resentment of being cast as a stereotypical affluent Seattle person who shops at natural markets, despite growing up never eating or shopping at these same fancy natural groceries.
Now, I realize that the “Whole Foods gentrification” phenomenon is not specific to a city like Seattle. The same case could be made for many places, for example Arlington, VA where I lived for 8 months, as illustrated in this hilarious video. Is it guilt? Is it all just good marketing that we’re all buying into? I mean there must be a logical reason why homeless folks are asking for money and selling Real Change at the entrances of Whole Foods and PCC, whereas I hardly see these same folks in front of Safeway. Maybe it’s just me.
I’m learning that one last and important tenet of being a good Seattle citizen also includes buying a copy of Real Change once in a while, smiling, and acknowledging the person selling it to you.
Oh, that and not forgetting your reusable shopping bag the next time you go to your nearest natural market.
Haha, we are lucky to have in-laws nearby to turn to for dinners and food to pack for lunches. Our grocery shopping list only consists of yogurt and eggs for the morning and green leaves for lunchtime salad!
But this whole movement has a lot to do with marketing! I recently found out that all the chalkboard/signage writing at Whole Paycheck was not done by hand – it was all generated by computers!
No way!… Those signs are not hand-drawn?!… Wow! I guess that explains why all the handwriting is so consistent! This explains the overall growth behind Whole Foods. John Mackey is probably one of the most interesting CEOs out there: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704471504574447114058870676.html and http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/01/04/100104fa_fact_paumgarten
Love this show! And this guest!
Thanks for stopping by! Yes, one of my favorite shows and a terrific guest role!
Have you thought about growing your own veggies? Seattle weather should be perfect for it. We tried last summer and failed abysmally. But we may try again later this year!
Hi TW! Hm… no not really. We have an existing small garden w/mint (tends to overgrow, so we constantly need to keep it in check) and hood strawberries, which weren’t bad this year. But we are pretty laissez-faire with our yard, which means that whatever we planted would probably not grow very well. I think step one would be to boost the hood strawberries a bit before we did anything drastic. Sounds like you guys have a nice garden going on!
Bummer, I cannot open the video here.
I can totally relate to your dilemma. Very often, I am not sure whether buying organic stuff actually means that you are buying the healthy alternative or whether it might be a giant money-making scam. However, I loved buying at WholeFoods and that’s something I dearly miss here (that and my daily shopping at Pike Place Market) where I just try to buy the vegetables that look the least mushy.
Ha, and I am driving around with my Starbucks and Pike Place Market bags in the trunk! 🙂
Hi Kristin! Wow, that’s great that you have your re-usable shopping bags in the trunk! Hahahaha! 🙂 Good habits die hard! Yes, I’m conflicted about the whole thing. While some of the organic movement is good (better food/less pesticides) I can’t help but feel like it’s all packaged in really good marketing too.
Oh, too bad you can’t see the video, it’s a short clip from this show called Portlandia which has been playing on IFC in the states. You should check it out. While it’s about Portland, many of the sketches and scenes depicted could easily translate to Seattle. I think you’d find it quite funny. Hope you had a great trip and welcome back!
I, sadly, also can’t see the video… and I absolutely love Portlandia about 25% of the time when they hit everything right on. I’ll have a browse over on Youtube.
After Cambridge, UK and Seattle where everything was so locally-grown/organic/earnest, I’m still rather freaked out by shelf after shelf of imported food in Hong Kong: fresh milk from California, previously frozen chicken from Brazil, farmed salmon from Norway, canned goods from the UK, breakfast cereal from New Zealand, etc. Slot in a stop at the Ballard farmer’s market for me in your Saturday shop tomorrow!
Hi Jen! Oh bummer. I think it’s b/c you guys are abroad and YouTube + IFC probably limit the broadcast/viewing rights in foreign countries. If you happen to be able to catch the sketch w/Jack McBrayer guest starring on Portlandia, that’s the video clip (where his character shows up at the fancy natural market sans re-usable bag.) Here’s the link from IFC, but again, not sure if you’ll be able to view it. http://www.ifc.com/shows/portlandia/blog/2012/01/jack-mcbrayer-left-his-bag-in-portlandia. I will definitely think of you this Sunday at the Ballard Farmer’s Market! 🙂
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Wish I had a Whole Foods around the corner from me in Shanghai! I too have gone to four stores for the fixings for one meal.
Thanks for stopping by! Oooo, yes, I think organic grocery stores would do quite well in Asia, particularly in HK and Shanghai. I’m sure your own grocery adventures in Shanghai (particularly in your efforts to cook Thanksgiving dinner) are much more exciting!
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