We live a small life. We’re very comfortable with that. The best I can make out, this is due to some combination of a desire for simplicity, empathy for the environment and sheer laziness, but here we are.
We are retired seniors living in a small, efficient condo. We have one four-year-old economy car with thirty thousand miles on it and a medium sized bicycle with considerably less. There are no boats, snowmobiles or small airplanes (which would be my choice). We don’t have an RV. We don’t even have a rooftop luggage carrier.
There are scores of interesting and mostly affordable restaurants nearby, but we don’t go out to eat all that much—maybe once a week, usually for breakfast or lunch. We rarely order in. We plan our meals using some combination of three stores once a week. The fridge is nearly bare by market day.
I’m not trying to sound heroic—the few demands on our time make organization simple for us. I’m just trying to give you a sense of our level on the scale of things, so maybe you can imagine the eye-popping experience it is for us to wander out from our tidy urban existence into the ferocious maze of suburban big box life.
Yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day, so we went to a not-so-cozy “Irish” pub to get some Irish food and a couple of stouts. It was all good and there was live music, but we’re not Irish, so what do we know? It wasn’t Dublin good, we know that.
Since we were headed thataway and our food needs for the upcoming week didn’t involve anything particularly fancy, we decided to hit a nearby Woodman’s Food Market.
Woodman’s is a Wisconsin-bred chain of super-supermarkets (spreading into Illinois). Their average store size is 240,000 square feet, which is about equal to a football field, including end zones and sidelines. The store we went to is fairly new, likely putting it well above that average. There’s a substantial liquor market for the Sconnies (you betcha), but the rest is groceries.
Now I’ve been all over this great big land from Wegmans to Winn-Dixie to the Star Market, but Woodman’s seems fairly unusual. The produce department is not much bigger than a traditional supermarket, with a limited variety of non-packaged fresh vegetables. There is virtually no deli or butcher shop. No seafood counter. No fancy section of prepared foods. No time for any of that. The entire store is devoted to processed and packaged food. It’s not quite the pallet-strewn warehouse of ALDI, but it makes Walmart look almost homey.
My first impression was that the carts were really big, and after that thinking five dollars less for a two-liter bottle of my favorite middle of the road potato vodka was a good start. What really opened my eyes, though, was the cereal aisle. Did I say aisle? There are two full double aisles of cold cereal alone. It was cereal heaven. I actually said that out loud and got a “Yes!” from another shopper, a kind of social interaction you don’t get in many parts of the world.
I eat Grape Nut Flakes—you know, for the fiber. Price was 25% less than we usually pay. Next to it were four pound boxes of Grape Nuts. Four pounds! Can you imagine? Have you ever eaten Grape Nuts? You could wear out an entire set of dentures on four pounds of Grape Nuts! You could set a footing for your mailbox with four pounds of Grape Nuts! You could survive a nuclear holocaust with four pound of Grape Nuts!
I could go on, but…
We pushed ahead, gradually beginning to cover some of the surface of the bottom of the cart with our meager haul, eventually ending up on a twenty minute search through a couple of acres of freezers for our favorite spinach and cheese ravioli.
All in all, there were some savings—not that much greater that our usual planning provides, so I don’t know if it’s worth the hassle. The customers seemed a little frantic with buying massive quantities of food in a short period of time. The conspicuously unidentifiable employees, once you noticed, seemed very tired of moving all that stuff around.
It was all kind of overwhelming, this mecca of every possible kind of food to heat up in the microwave, pour into a bowl, or jam a straw into. But, as you may have noticed by now, it’s often the little things I get stuck on.
They didn’t have our favorite TAZO tea in large boxes. What they did have, however, was five shelves of Keurig TAZO tea. I had no idea! You can actually have tea come out of a spout. It’s like magic! No more having to mess with heating a cup of water in the microwave before dropping one of those messy paper tea bags into your cup and all that nonsense. Instead, you can have bacteria-laden standing water from a reservoir sent through some sludgy tubing to be heated and forced through a plastic tub for about ten seconds while you’re in the shower! Or you can just command Alexa to do it when you’re ready, assuming you remembered to load the right stuff.
There’s a lot of writing about the inconvenience of convenience. Easy to Google, so I’m not going to waste your time here. I get that planning and buying groceries for a family is a load, and I get that prices aren’t getting any better. I get that there’s only a half hour between dropping off little Seth at basketball and picking up Amelia at orchestra practice.
But I only needed one pound of carrots, not two, so I’ll probably eat more carrots this week, whether I needed them or not. I looked around at the massive shelves. And the massive carts. And the massive people. Adding it up.
Maybe it was just the lighting, but it seemed a little bleak in there. I don’t think it’s for us.
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