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There was a time in my life, and I assume all of our lives, when my meals were prepared exclusively by my parents. Those were the best of times. Then one day, as that Mitsubishi Montero Sport burned rubber out of the dorm parking lot with my father fist pumping out the window and high-fiving my step mom, all of that changed. Now, I had to fend for myself which meant doing my own cooking, and more importantly, my own grocery shopping. When I look back on the genesis of my grocery shopping days, I notice a distinct difference in how I grocery shop now versus then.
One striking difference that I’m grappling with is the fact that I am now actually being forced to buy and become familiar with ingredients of food, instead of the highly processed, prepackaged garbage that I once fed myself. In college, the rule of thumb was pack however many boxes of Velveeta and Totinos Pizza you can into the cart and move on. Recently, I was asked by my significant other to retrieve a cilantro from the grocery store, only to arrive there and realize that I have no clue what a cilantro looks like. I’ve heard of it before sure but I couldn’t pick a bushel (they come in bushels right?) of cilantro out in a line up. Is it like chive? Is it a leaf? A root? I’ve never watched an episode of Top Chef in my life, how the hell was I supposed to know? Being a true man, I wasn’t going to ask anyone for help or directions so I was left to examine every name tag on that wall of vegetables all the while being lightly misted by those ridiculous sprayers. I understand you want to keep your vegetables looking TV commercial quality but people are trying to shop here. Not be cooled down like they just came off the field after scoring a touchdown. 30 minutes and two wet sleeves later I had a handful of cilantro that I’m pretty sure was thrown away after only using a quarter of it. I’m not even sure if it was used in a meal. I’m pretty sure I could have pulled some grass out of my front lawn and nobody would have known the difference.
I am also noticing that I now am forced to comprehend the health impacts of what I’m buying. In college, my diet was pretty much defined by how much red meat I could eat in a week. Hot dog eating contest? Tell me when and where, and I’m there. Golden Corral? Hell yeah, I’ll starve myself until we go. Now I stand for hours examining chicken broth, and weighing the pros and cons of low sodium verses no sodium. I used to sit down with a full rotisserie chicken and crush that entire thing for dinner. It was glorious. Now, it causes me physical pain to have to walk by delicious, thick cuts of New York strip that are on sale and then force myself to keep moving. All the while my mother’s voice rings in my head, “You know your family has a history of heart disease”. Thanks mom. It’s also no secret that since college and taking up positions in cubicles we tend to be, for the most part, 100% less active than we used to be (rough estimate, based on no science). This has led to a modest, but noticeable weight gain, at least for me. Sure I could join a Crossfit box, but I’ll defer to W. R. Bolen and his spot-on assessment as to why I’ll pass on that option. I would, however, like to head the cultivation of mass off by eating healthy. So now I’m breaking out everything I think I know about nutrition and reading labels on just about everything I see. No trans-fat? I don’t know what a trans-fat is, but if it’s anything like actual fat, count me out. Probiotics? Sounds like it could lend itself to superhuman attributes. How much ya got?
Lastly, I’m now shopping at the grocery store for things other than groceries. I have actually said to myself, “Whoa, almost forgot to swing by aisle 16 and pick up some air filters for my AC”. I‘ve really thought long and hard about it and I honestly cannot tell you if the Publix (the Stop & Shop of the South, for you Northerners) in Tallahassee even had air filters available for purchase. I just don’t know. I have cruised down the magazine aisle and have been stopped dead in my tracks by headlines like “Kris Kardashian and Bruce Call It Quits” and “Miley Is at It Again”. First off, she’s just being Miley, so leave her alone, and if there is no hope for any Kardashian’s marriage what hope is there for the rest of us? More importantly, why did I feel compelled to stop and peruse this trash? I’m assuming it was right around the same time I started recycling and using the primetime network TV schedule to tell what day of the week it was. I leave this aisle incredibly frustrated by the fact that I am now up to date on more pop culture smut than the average 17-year-old girl. I hate it, but like a bad Rihanna song, I can’t wait to indulge again.
This used to be simple. This used to be straightforward. Now I look at my cart as sign of my age. Half of it is filled with food and things I need to sustain life, the other half is filled with cartons of cigarettes, wine, beer and things to make me forget how depressing grocery shopping is. Not to mention, I’ll undoubtedly leave at least a third of my most recent paycheck at the cash register. On the bright side, however, I’m not clipping coupons yet. If my parents are any indication, that doesn’t happen until well after 40. So there’s that.