Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Supermarket Dystopia

I'm not sure what is responsible for the nearly complete sense of alienation that I experience almost every time I go into the supermarket. But today that feeling that I was a stranger in a strange land, coupled with a maddening resentment that I was dependent on such a vulgar and banal institution, would have been too much to bear if I was not such an intrinsically optimistic kind of guy :-)

I think what pushed me right up to the edge of running out of the door whilst tearing at the miserly patch of hair that my genome has determined will be the "freak flag" of my middle age, was the recognition that there was very little in that nearly 50 thousand square foot monstrosity that I could buy. I'm guessing that more than 90 % of the foodstuff in there is either offensive to me (think: pallid thawed fish; frozen/dehydrated/vacuum-sealed/canned bake, boil or nuke-n-serve space food) or so bizarre in appearance that I cannot think of it as food for humans. Even a lot of the "good stuff" sucks.

For example, they only sell Parmigiano Reggiano in wedges that have been vacuum-sealed. The vacuuming compresses the cheese and ruins the texture so all it is really good for is grating.

Take a good long look at the picture of supermarket shelves in the upper left hand corner of this post. Squint a bit so the divisions between the packages becomes blurred and the colors run together. Does it look like food?

I did not have an epiphany, not even close. I've felt like a stranger in a strange land when I shop in supermarkets for at least 30 years. But 30 years ago the markets were smaller, and with a lot less stuff that looked like it was designed to be eaten by people who were not so indifferent to what they were eating.


Tags said...

And to think it all started with Louis Pasteur.

Don Luis said...

Gee Bob, I'm having a little trouble feeling sorry for you.

Several years ago, I moved from a fairly affluent place (Newton, Mass) to a fairly poor place (the central mountains of Puerto Rico). After being spoiled rotten on Whole Foods (whatever people may think of them), Russo's market, and Tutto Italiano (located half a mile from my house, I used to walk there every Saturday to get salumi and real cheese, like Parmegaino Regiano split from a huge wheel and pecorino from Sardinia and Rome), I dream of American supermarkets and shrink wrapped Italian cheese. It's all I can get, and that comes from Costo. Our local supermarket has three kinds of cheese: white, yellow, and Dutch (Edam and Gouda are popular here).

Don't get me wrong. We have great food here. The pork is the best I've ever had, and I only buy Puerto Rican beef and chicken, but the vegetable selection
is pathetic. I can get artichokes a couple of times a year, and we have lots of local root vegetables, but as an Italian American who grew up in Jersey, I miss what I grew up with. Later, living in Boston, I had great seafood. For an island, we have remarkably little seafood. Now, frozen scallops wrapped in
bacon are a treat.

My mother-in-law does most of the cooking for our family of seven, and I'm not so rude that I would complain about the "breaded" chicken breasts she gets frozen from Sam's. Last night I had tiny meatballs in a horrible tomato
sauce, with mashed potatoes on the side. The meatballs were also bought frozen, and god knows what the meat was.

Of course, she makes the best pernil I've ever had, but that happens mostly around holidays.

I cook myself when I can, but computer geeks don't have much time for that kind of thing.

John said...

Feel better now, Mr. Hyperbole?

Aside from veggies and the meat counter, let's talk about:
beans, dried and canned
oils, olive, hazlenut, peanut
canned tomatoes, palm hearts, artichoke hearts, olives
ice cream
flour, butter, eggs
cat and dog food
pasta, rice, DeBoles products,
Milk and OJ
cheese (not cheese food)
toilet paper and paper towels
POM Tea (sorry, personal favorite)

There's a lot more.

So? That's a lot more than 10% of the store. Sure there's a lot of junk. Read any cookbooks lately? How many are junk? Yours aren't (books, I mean. I know they're not cookbooks, but cook's books) but there are a lot. Shall we bemoan the bookstore.

Bob del Grosso said...

Don Luis

I was just riffing; don't take it to heart. Molto rispetto.

Ed Bruske said...

Bob, this is why I try not to leave the house. Grow your own!

John said...

You know, I think you're right. I apologize for taking it too seriously. But a part of me remembers reading wbout how supermarkets were welcomed into towns because they brought food the general stores couldn't or wouldn't. And, after living in India for a couple of years, I appreciate them more.

Anyway, sorry for the rant. Molto rispetto right back atcha. And a big Mi dispiace to boot.

Don Luis said...


I was not in any way offended. I just miss my food. I haven't been to Saint Alphonso's pancake breakfest in years, and when I was, I didn't steal the margarine.

Molto rispetto to you for your attitude about food, and sorry about the overly-long rant.

Bob del Grosso said...

It's fine. I think I over-reached in that post anyway. I was trying to convey a sense of disaffection with suburban culture and not much more.

I'd forgotten how precious that kind of thing can sound to people who would love to have more but cannot.

I'm working on it.

Anonymous said...

Never thought I'd see the word "whilst" on this blog. You generally ascribe to plain language, which I admire.

ntsc said...

One of the supermarkets closest to me, and it is the worse of the two, carries Ball jars year round. They don't have a lot of flour, and 5 lbs is a big package, but they have perhaps 15 different flours. Different grain, differnt brands. Stay around the edges, and make necessary short trips in to the wilds of the aisles. There are good things in there. They even have two different brands of Kosher salt.