Eating out of the box

Photo of an old grocery store

Wow. It's astounding that even in an old photo like this, you still see rows and rows of packaged goods. (Liberalmind1012/Flickr/CC-A)

Recently while standing in line at the grocery store, waiting to check out, I saw something astounding.  A couple, unloading their groceries.  I had to look closer, then check again a few times to be sure I was seeing things correctly.  Box after bag after box landed on the conveyor belt.

Hungry-Man meals.

Potato Chips.

Hamburger Helper – the complete meal.

Chicken Parmesan – frozen in a bag.   Just open it up and throw it in a pan.

Bags and bags of cookies.


There wasn’t one damn thing in that cart that wasn’t already “prepared.”  Nary a vegetable, nor meat, dairy, nothing anyone alive a hundred years ago would recognize as food.

Now, I’m not one of those crazy people at the store who strikes up conversations with random people.  But I really had half a mind to sidle up to their cart and ask these two a few questions.
“Pardon me.  Could I see your grocery bill?  I just want to know how any human being affords this sort of shopping trip.  You know I could feed a division of Marines for what you’ve probably spent here?

I’m sorry.  This is just a truly unique sight for me – a completely shelf-stable grocery trip. And how’s your blood pressure?  Your cholesterol? Your medical team must talk about you during happy hour.  Have you ever had scurvy?”

They probably would have looked at in much the same way that a cheetah would had I interrupted it in the middle of a fresh kill.  In situations like this, you need to back up, slowly, but carefully.  It doesn’t do to turn and run.  That just activates the chase instinct.

But I suspect, from the composite nutritional value of this pair’s shopping trip, the only chase instinct they had was chasing down a stray cheese doodle.

I should clarify that they didn’t fit the stereotype I’ve probably created in your head.  They were young, looked surprisingly healthy, and were dressed in a way that suggested they were taking their groceries back to a home nicer than a double-wide at Happy Acres trailer park.

But oh, the garbage in their cart.  Utter dreck.

How can anyone eat like this?  I understand the statistics.  I know that by and large Americans eat terribly.  But it’s hard to grasp this when everyone you know actually cooks.

I grew up around cooking.  Not some stereotypical big-family dinner scene, mind you, with piles of aunts collaborating in the production of a meal.  We’re talking white-bread, middle-America cooking.  One meat, one veg, one starch.  Milk with dinner.  But it was food.

I didn’t really learn to cook until I went to college, where I ran with a group of friends who, in addition to the stereotypical interests of male college students, were accustomed to eating well.  And in order to do that on of a college student budget, you need to learn how to cook.

These days when I cook, I prepare almost everything from scratch.  And I shop in the same way.  I hardly ever make shopping lists or plan menus, so I can get in and out of the store pretty fast.  I may not know all of Escoffier’s methods for egg cookery, but if I have a few eggs, some cheese and a bit of ham handy, I can put together something good.

Sure there are times I cut a few corners.  I’ve got two new kids at home.  I don’t need Sandra Lee to tell me Betty Crocker can make potatoes au gratin faster than I can.  Of course it’s not as good as making it from scratch, but so what?  I’m not building my family’s diet around packaged foods, and it’s not like I call Betty for backup every night.

So that’s why I was particularly amused that on this particular day, in contrast to these two who had laden their cart with the bounty of General Mills, Pepperidge Farm and Nabisco, there was nothing in my cart that was in a box.

And a good thing too.  Doing my own cooking keeps my grocery bills low, my health high, and my attitude towards life good.


2 thoughts on “Eating out of the box

  1. I often wonder about these people too – what did their parents feed them? What is their job, that they can afford all this over-priced, over-packaged junk?
    How big is their bin? And their carbon footprint?
    And what the hell has happenned to their bodies that they don’t crave some veggies every now and then?
    I spend so much of my time around food – my father and brother are both chefs and I really have a love of gritty, from-scratch, fun cooking. I really enjoy the smells and colours. Boxed food is often colours picked only from the “taupe” swatch… Everything a little too grey for it to be real…
    I gape at these people too, Ted.
    Good post!

    • Thanks… it was an oddly intriguing moment. I don’t pretend to be a saint or anything, but it was astounding to see there was absolutely nothing in their cart that wasn’t packaged, and nothing in my cart that was. I looked as closely as I could without crossing the boundary into that “crazy person in the subway” zone. I like your point about “grey” and “taupe” as the predominant colors of packaged food, as well.

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