Wednesday, September 9, 2009

No Capers in this Economy

Ever since my children went off to college and beyond, I hate grocery shopping. When my family was around, I prided myself in cooking excellent dinners. But now when I get home from work I’d rather grab some cheese and crackers, pour some wine and enjoy my repast with Alex Trebek and Jeopardy!

Besides my disinterest in cooking, another reason I hate grocery shopping is that I’m an impulse buyer. These days I only go to the Acme when I’m desperate for something like laundry detergent or toilet paper (or wine and cheese). That means there’s no planning involved, and I’m easily seduced into buying stuff that eventually goes bad in the fridge or expires on my shelves. For example, I have a bottle of capers in my refrigerator and two in my cupboard. Why?? I don’t know. I guess I’m just attracted to emerald-colored glass bottles filled with tiny, squished balls – probably something Freudian. I also have three bags of special purple rice that once was exclusively eaten by Chinese emperors. I’m well stocked with Pad Thai-in-a-box, dried mango slices, peach chutney, pomegranate juice, frozen collard greens and cherry-flavored rawhide bones (for my Golden Retriever). Did you know you can buy fancy tins of chunky salt crystals from Tuscany and France? Ooh la la – I have a few of those. When I checkout and discover what I owe, I get the guilts big time. After last fall’s market crash, I’ve already resolved myself that early retirement is not in my future and here I am wasting money on things that I’ll cram in cupboards and never eat.

So this week I was desperate for crackers and ran into the grocery determined to take only five minutes. Don’t ask me why I grabbed a cart, but I did and started cruising the aisles. I first noticed the couple when I was gazing at a bottle of artichoke infused olive oil. They were obviously a husband and wife team in their late 30s armed with an alphabetized box of coupons, a shopping list and a CALCULATOR.

“We need flour, George,” she said. “The large bag is a better buy, but I think it will put us over budget.”

“We saved money on those generic cookies for the kids instead of Oreos, so maybe we’ll be OK,” he said with fingers flying over the calculator keys.

In the next aisle as I was contemplating a lovely jar of spiced watermelon rind, they were searching through coupons and running the numbers on which ketchup was the bargain. We kept bumping into one another around the store – they were pricing tuna while I was throwing Indonesian minced crab into my cart -- until we finally ended up at neighboring checkouts. My cart was filled with the usual ridiculousness – baked eggplant chips, shitakes, opal-basil cinnamon vinegar, organic tofu bars, raspberry beer. They were excited because their total was under their allotted budget and could buy ice cream cones on the way home.

Now I don’t know if this frugal pair was doing calculated shopping because of the bad economy or not. Perhaps they were just accounting geeks. But the seriousness with which they discussed each purchase made me think their efforts were out of necessity. Either way they certainly taught me a lesson – or at least made me feel really, really guilty. Pickled, white asparagus anyone?


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