Jewish World Review Oct. 21, 2005/ 18 Tishrei, 5766

Greg Crosby

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Consumer Reports

Joys of Supermarket Shopping | Ah, the joys of supermarket shopping! The radiance of Ralphs! The charm of Safeway! The vivacity of Vons! The glory of Gelson's! Supermarket shopping is such a delight, isn't it? No, it isn't. It isn't at all. It stinks on ice, as a matter of fact. It has gotten really bad in the last few years and it promises to get even worse as time goes on, sort of like an unchecked malignant disease. I might say the same for shopping in general, clothes shopping, hardware, sundries, all kinds of shopping, but I'll leave those others for another time and just concentrate on picking on the grocery stores today.

Grocery stores. Remember that name? That's what people used to call stores that sold food items before supermarkets were born. Back when you could actually walk in, find what you wanted, pay for it and get out within less than an hour, usually in just a few minutes. What a concept — easy shopping!

People who want to grow up to be big shot supermarket executives go to college today to learn how to hide the staple items like milk, dairy, and bread so that shoppers have to spend vast amounts of time wandering around the store looking for them. The fact that milk is always way in the back of the store so that you have to pass a million other items before you get to it is no accident.

Neither is it an accident that the breads, cakes, cookies, pretzels and crackers are found at various points all over the store. Any why aren't all the paper goods in the same place? Why aren't the paper towels down the same isle as the paper plates? Facial tissue and toilet tissue are usually next to each other on the shelf, but not paper napkins — why?

If I were the chief of the supermarket police I would ban all cell phones from the store. Why do so many people find that the very best place to talk to their friends on the cell phone is standing right in front of the door to the market so that they block others from entering? And if you look at them disapprovingly, they shoot back a nasty look a at you as if you are the one that's wrong.

Something I've noticed as the markets get bigger and bigger, is that the variety of choices of brands on the shelves is actually becoming less than it was when the stores were smaller. My theory on that is, as the huge conglomerates acquire the smaller chains, they consolidate their food buyers and those few buyers buy from the same companies for all the stores. What you get is less competition on the shelf among food suppliers and manufacturers and fewer choices for consumers.

So because the entire grocery business is now controlled by only a couple of large corporations, our brand choices are now greatly limited. You might find Downey fabric softener on the shelf, for instance, but no Snuggle in many stores. Frito-Lay brands, but no Laura Schudder. And just try asking the store manager to special order a brand for you — they can't do it. If it's not in the warehouse (and it's not, otherwise it would be on the shelf) you are just out of luck.

Another annoyance of mine is when I'm standing in line checking out; more often than not the checker is engaged in a conversation in Spanish with the bagger person. The fact that they are talking in another language from mine (the customer) would be rude enough all by itself, the fact that they are ignoring me (again the customer) would also be rude enough all by itself, but add to that the fact that the bagger is shoving bread and other squash-able things in with heavy items while all the time chattering away, is really the ultimate insult.

They used to ask you if you wanted paper bags or plastic, but now I notice they are pushing the plastic ones by saying, "plastic, okay?" Well, it's okay if you want your groceries all smashed together in a pile. Plastic bags have no body as do the paper ones, so you can't really pack them correctly. But never mind, today's baggers don't know how to pack groceries in any kind of bag.

Heavy bulky things on top of breakable items; frozen food and ice cream melting on bakery goods; insect spray and disinfectant packed in with fruit and vegetables, and the blood of packaged meat and chicken dripping onto toilet paper and through the bottom of the bag. When they use plastic you usually wind up taking home about twenty-seven bags, each one with one or two items in them — either that or they pack so much in, that the handles rip as soon as you lift them.

You spend a bloody fortune on food and then the checkers and baggers toss the stuff around like its so much trash. The items are scanned, and then they send them down the conveyer belt, cans falling over, and large containers of detergent pushing into the bread as it collects at the end of the counter. The stuff is thrown into bags, the bags thrown into a shopping cart, and off you go towards the front door, working your way around another idiot on a cell phone standing in the way.

You think at this point the horrible experience is over; all you have to do is get to the car, right? Easier said than done. First you need to get by the guy sitting at a card table at the entrance hitting you up for money for the homeless, and then you have to avoid the panhandlers and hoboes in the parking lot. After that, you load the mess of bags into the car, get in and drive out of the parking lot. You're home free .after you do battle with the traffic on the street.

Nest time, I think I'll just call out for a pizza.

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.

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© 2005 Greg Crosby