Selling a house. The death of someone you love. Separation from a spouse. Mental health professionals consider these among the most stressful life events. While I’m not a mental health professional, they all sound about right to me. However, I think one more trigger should be included: grocery shopping.
Sadly, I’m not joking. I find my weekly trip to the grocery store mentally exhausting, physically demanding and financially grievous. I envy those of you who do not share in these grocery store afflictions. And for those of you who actually enjoy grocery shopping? Well, I applaud you.
My food shopping journey sours quickly; usually before I have even placed an item in my cart. I always (and I mean always) manage to pick a shopping cart that has a noisy, vibrating wheel that makes it sound as though I’m clicking castanets as I push the cart down the aisle. These wobbly-wheeled carts also tend to veer to the side, so I have been known to crash into another shopper on more than one occasion.
As my cart shimmies its way down the aisle, I begin to feel overwhelmed. Does anyone else find the immense selection of items mind boggling? Take canned tomatoes, for example. There are whole, crushed, stewed, diced, paste and sauce. These tomatoes are available with seasoning or without. Low sodium, organic, and not organic. There are literally dozens of brand names, and the inevitable store brand that is competing against those fancier name brands. (Are the brand names really that much better than the store brands?) As if these weren’t enough choices, then there are canned tomatoes from San Marzano, which implies the location these tomatoes were grown should be considered. To make matters worse, some of the canned tomatoes are on sale but (wait!) their amount is slightly less than the other brands. I finally close my eyes and randomly grab a can and proceed on.
The tuna fish selection is next. For the love of God, why are there so many choices of tuna fish? Chunk light, solid white, chunk white, and Albacore. Fish in pouches, fish in cans. There is gourmet, premium and organic. Then come the brands: Bumble Bee (what marketing weirdo thought of that name?), Chicken of the Sea (another marketing weirdo), StarKist, Natures Promise, Genova, Wild Planet. Just as I think I’ve finally narrowed down my choices, I realize some have that dolphin safe emblem while others do not. I can’t forget about the dolphins! And please don’t get me started on mercury levels. As I spend ten minutes deliberating over tuna fish cans, inevitably someone driving one of those motorized scooters will approach. I move my cart out of their way and proceed to wait as the person driving the motorized scooter also ponders their tuna fish choices.
It is usually around this point that my three year old son spills the snack I have given him to keep him occupied. Goldfish crackers cover the floor, making the other shoppers jump out of the way. Some smile patiently while others give me the evil eye as they walk over the goldfish, their shoes making a crunching sound. I try and pick up as many goldfish as I can – shoving them in my pockets. (Later on I forget to empty the crackers from my pockets and the pants go in the wash. I then open my washer door to find a goldfish paste is coating the barrel of my washing machine.)
I rush through the frozen food aisle that is as warm as a tundra. As I pick out frozen waffles for my children’s breakfast I feel a pang of guilt that I’m not making them waffles from scratch. At that moment an Extreme Couponer passes with her binder bulging with coupons. I haven’t brought any coupons, let alone an amount that would require an actual binder to house them. I can’t decide if I hate or admire the Extreme Couponer, so I push my gyrating cart past her and avoid eye contact when she looks up from her binder to see what is making that horrific clacking noise.
By the time I reach the checkout, my cart is so full I have to lean into it in order to move the cart forward. I resemble an orderly in the hospital who is pushing an obese patient through the hall. Occasionally I grunt as I brace my feet to keep the cart from veering to the side. As I stand in line, my son frantically tries to grab every packet of gum from the display next to us. After I unload the food from my cart onto the belt, I realize I forgot several important items. I also realize I have left my reusable grocery bags in my car, which means I will have to use those flimsy plastic bags the store provides. The environmentalist within me cringes.
The shopping journey is nearing its end and I want to rejoice – except the bagger has thrown my canned items into the same bag as my tomatoes and apples, bruising them before they have even made it home. The cashier announces my total and I let out a sigh. Despite my best efforts, I have managed to spend more money than I had budgeted. I also wonder if, perhaps, I would have saved more money had I gone to one of the other five grocery stores that are within a 1 mile radius from this one.
Upon returning home, my arms ache from keeping the food laden grocery cart straight and not veering to the side. It also seems as though a literal hole has been burnt in my wallet from how much these groceries cost. At that moment my phone rings. It is a friend calling. She is weeping and proceeds to tell me she and her husband are separating. “I feel your pain,” I commiserate, “I just came home from grocery shopping.”