This article is part of an ongoing series titled “Bless Your Heart, New York,” in which we ever so sweetly remind the Big Apple of the things they are doing oh so wrong. Bless their hearts.
Dear New York,
There’s something we need to discuss. I understand you’ve got your food-related charms — your dollar pizza slices, your bagels and schmear, your five-star dining, your 24-hour bodegas for 4 a.m. sandwich fixes, Shake Shack. But in the realm of the culinary, there is one area where you are seriously, seriously lacking.
There are a lot of downsides to a suburban life. The houses can be cookie cutter, the stores close at 6 p.m., and the public transit is practically non-existent. However, there is an area where suburbia kicks your ass. As a child, it was a weekly (if you’re my mother) or biweekly (if you’re my grandmother) ritual, carefully planned and leisurely executed. I’m talking, my friend, about grocery shopping.
It always started with the list. A pad of paper was stationed on the kitchen counter next to a pen, and items were added in the days leading up to the next trip. Now this list was fluid, more guidelines than actual rules. We would snake leisurely up and down the aisles of Kroger, smiling at strangers over boxes of Funfetti and stopping for a free sample at the bakery. As a kid I would ride in the front of the cart reading off items as the designated adult shopper made sure we had everything we needed. It wasn’t necessarily a fun activity (oh sweet young Scout, how little you appreciated the good thing you had going), but it was certainly not dreaded, plus putting away the groceries was one of the chores that I didn’t absolutely loathe. In short, the process of grocery shopping was a fact of life — neither good nor bad, but necessary.
But listen, New York: I’ve been here for approximately 2.5 years, and in that time grocery shopping, in the traditional sense, has become my single most-hated activity (actually, it might be a close second to having to ride L train towards Brooklyn on a Friday night with no alcohol in my system, or really just having to ride the L train at peak hours in general). New York, you make grocery shopping hard enough with my lack of car, forcing me to shop like a cave woman only taking what I can carry (Costco packs, in my world, are merely a pipe dream). But to add on the long lines and tight spaces? You’re killing me here.
Which is why I tend to avoid the more traditional list guided, planned grocery trips. Instead, my acquisition of food tends to fall into four broad categories:
- Bodega/Duane Reade, On the Way To or From Somewhere, Snack Purchase.
- Grocery Shopping
Let me break it down for you.
One: One of the perks of working in the restaurant industry is that, often, they feed you. They feed you food that is fresh and has all the necessary food groups, and you don’t even have to do the dishes after you’re done eating it! It’s a miracle I have managed neither to starve myself nor to slip into some sort of processed food coma.
The next two I’ll give you props for, New York. Seamless is an incredible and dangerous invention that is amazing for your stomach but terrible for your bank account (she writes as she orders Indian food). And 24 hour convenience store is exactly what it sounds like — convenient — and I often find myself stopping in after a shift at the restaurant and grabbing just enough food to last me a couple of days (This would be a perfect solution if one could subsist entirely on cereal and Reeses peanut butter cups. Sadly, one cannot).
But then we come to four and here, New York, is where you really drop the ball. Every now and then, when options one through three have failed to satisfy all my nutritional and fridge-stocking needs, I am forced to enact desperate measures. I make a list. I block out a stretch of time. And, New York, I head to the grocery. Sometimes I tackle the tiny store two blocks from my house; other times I gear up for the Trader Joe’s in Union Square, but only if I’m feeling particularly brave. While the groceries of my childhood were vast sprawling buildings with aisles wide enough to accommodate two carts, you, New York: the things you call groceries are hardly big enough to house the food on offer, much less the people shopping for it.
I never thought I would miss a place as banal as Kroger, but you’ve made me long for it. My neighborhood grocery is basically a claustrophobe’s nightmare: a labyrinth of narrow passages that barely fit me and my basket, much less another person. Their limited space also means that products are stacked all the way to the ceiling, rendering a many of them unreachable (No Frosted Mini Wheats for me. Why, New York, why?!). You would think at least the bigger grocery stores, like the aforementioned Trader Joe’s, would be big enough to shop comfortably. However, they pose a whole new problem, one which you are constantly bombarding me with: people. We’re not talking the attitude of the TJoe’s staff here (they are actually some of the pleasantest people I’ve ever met, despite their working environment). We are talking about the sheer amount of people that attempt to grocery shop in one place. If hell on earth isn’t Times Square on a Friday night, then it is the Union Square Trader Joe’s at 6 p.m., any day of the week.
But a girl’s gotta eat, and their frozen pizza is damn good (also cookie butter, damn it), so like my ancestors of old I have learned to adapt to the challenges of my habitat. When grocery shopping in New York, all decisions must be made carefully and strategically.
- When: Tuesday morning is usually a good choice.
- How: Bring a backpack, a large tote — anything to make that food-laden commute easier.
- And most importantly, who: New York, if I have learned anything during my time here, it is that shopping at the Union Square Trader Joe’s is a contact sport not to be attempted solo. For optimal shopping, you need to assemble a team of at least 2-3 people. As soon as you enter, one shopper proceeds directly to the staff member holding the sign that reads “Line ends here” (usually found within 10 feet of the entrance. I told you, people.). The others proceed to the aisles, gathering the items from your list that do not fall along the perimeter of the store and relaying them to the line waiter, who collects peripheral items as he or she proceeds to check-out. (The same shop-while-you-wait principle applies if misfortune or incompatible work schedules force you to venture in alone — it is the only way to avoided added stress.)
If you follow this battle plan, and you are very lucky, the entire endeavor can be completed in under 3 hours.
So New York, I guess what I am saying is: Bless Your Heart, you’ll never know the wonder of a leisurely shopping cart ride, the phenomenon of being able to buy in bulk, the sweet frustration of someone leaving a cart in the middle of your desired parking spot. There are some who might say your long lines, your narrow aisles, and your team-based shopping environment are just part of your charm. That is builds character and adds flavor to this adventure we call New York Living. But every time I walk into the store to face an hour-long line, or get home from an all afternoon expedition only to realize I forgot the soy milk, I remain unconvinced.