7.09.2006,10:06 PM
The Bike Bag Lady
Two life functions I detest: laundry mats and grocery shopping. I cured the first with a washer and dryer at home. The latter is unavoidable. I shop like a man: go in, hunt for food and get out. Stay out of my way or suffer 'aisle rage'. I'm convinced that grocery stores should have the same directional cues as our roads:

  • Stay on the right side unless passing,
  • Do not stop in the aisle unless pulling something off the shelf,
  • Do not loiter in the middle of the aisle,
  • If necessary to park the cart, pull off on the 'shoulder'; find an unobtrusive spot to park,
  • Slow down and look before leaving an aisle and turning corners,
  • Do not leave your cart in the middle of the aisle!
  • Children must be buckled in the carts or in straight jackets and duct tape on their mouths,
  • Don't abandon carts in the middle of the aisle.
  • Visit with each other parked somewhere else other than the middle of the aisle. Preferably outside the store.
  • Pay attention to carts and people in front and behind you. It's not your store. Everyone else shops there, too.
  • When in doubt, pull the cart off to the side or end of the aisle.

When I was in Europe I enjoyed the routine of picking up food items for a day or two from the local deli, butcher, bakery, pastry shop, produce market or coffee shop. You knew the owners and families of the shop and genuine greetings and personable conversation was the order of the day. Faces had names and smiles, voices had meaning and music. Shopping was an opportunity to interact with people as well as an exchange of sustenance.

Storage space and kitchens were small, refrigerators were tiny, freezers were sometimes non-existent. You picked up items on the way home from work or during a stroll outside. Everything was always fresh and full of flavor.

It was more common than not to see people shopping with cloth bags in their hands and carrot tops sticking out or half a loaf of French bread. Or similar bags stuffed in plastic or metal cases attached to scooters and small motorbikes. I recall watching a young Italian man winding between cars on a Roman street biting a hunk of cheese in one hand and steering with the other, a bottle of wine and loaf of bread sticking out of his slingpack.

Here in America we have huge SUVs crammed with plastic bags full of processed and mass-produced consumer goods that pass for 'food' with fancy colorful labels listing ingredients most people can't pronounce or don't even bother to read. The legislated nutritional breakdown doesn't seem to matter to most of the population because we are getting fatter every year. We buy in bulk and we get bulkier. Many have fond memories of home-cooked food when we had time to prepare it. Some never taste the food they eat because their sensory input is flooded by television sight and sound. Taste takes a back seat and our taste buds may become vestigial organs like our appendix. Our food has lost the quality of nutrition and taste it was meant to have and so have we.

I remember accompanying my father to the small Mom 'n Pop delis and bakeries outside of Buffalo when I was growing up. Occasionally we were treated to locally made Polish and German sausage, fresh made Russian Black bread, aged sauerkraut, cheese curdled and pressed from the cows outside the dairy store, ice cream churned and frozen fresh every Friday. When I lived in Maine, I bought milk from the local dairies, churned my own butter, made my own ice cream, ground my own flour, hunted and cured wild birds, fish and deer, raised chickens and gathered eggs, smoked half a pig in exchange for firewood, grew my own vegetables and canned my winter stock. Later in Oregon I raised sheep and marketed lamb, custom cut and delivered with recipes to your door. I traded lamb or ham for whole fresh-caught salmon or a quarter of a beef critter.

Now I shop at grocery stores.

But I ride my bike to the stores. Sometimes I take in my helmet and use it as my shopping basket (I once fit a whole frozen chicken in it). Other times I take in plastic bags from previous shopping runs. I bungee a cooler with ice packs to the passenger seat of my cruiser for items that need chilling and stuff the saddlebags with the remaining purchased items.

I can't carry much, which is sometimes a good thing. Especially when I go to Central Market. I go there to shop once a month for items I can't find elsewhere and bulk seasonings, spices, coffee and freshly made bakery goodies as well as an occasional treat of their mouthwatering protein from the meat and fish departments. That ensures I can leave the store spending less than three figures. Usually.

As is European custom, I always combine it with a relaxing stop at the bookstore and cafe. A coffee and magazines or a book to browse through. This compensates for the less-than-relaxing grocery store excursion. Sometimes I even take "The Long Way Home" via the scenic route.

And top it off with ice cream. Just like when I was a kid.
I still am.
posted by Macrobe
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