Redemption at the Produce Section

My husband and I are at the grocery store. We’ve been shopping together for decades, so we’re efficient. We barrel through produce, then on to meat and seafood, sprint through cheeses, dairy, and baked goods, make a break for the checkout line.

I usually try to leaf through magazines at this point, but for some reason, I look down at the groceries in our basket. I am stunned. You have never seen a more wholesome cluster of food in your life — kale, okra, lettuce, avocados, tomatoes, blueberries, bananas, fish, meat from happy, grass-fed animals, almond milk, walnuts, snack bars that are so good for you, they taste and look very much like dirt.

“Look at us,” I hiss to my husband. “We look like a traveling salad bar.” I pause to clench my teeth. “How did we get this damned healthy?”

He’s now pulling our groceries out of the cart, piling them on the counter (we are efficient, as I mentioned). Our foodstuffs are so brightly colored, they’re blindingly gaudy. “At least they’re really expensive,” he says.

“I’ve just noticed how boring our groceries are,” I say unnecessarily to the young woman who’s checking us out.

The young woman smiles noncommittally. She is used to customers making unnecessary remarks. It’s just like your mother always told you: You think people are noticing you all the time. Well, they’re not. They’re too busy worrying about their own lives. This young woman, for example, is probably wondering about that strange knocking sound in her car and the orange light that goes on when the strange knocking sound stops. This is infinitely more interesting to her than our head of organic red-leafed lettuce.

I, on the other hand, remain enthralled by the contents of our grocery basket, now splayed out on the counter, now adding up to a small fortune. Organic vegetables and fruits? Good grief. Is this what we’ve come to?

Since the woman behind the checkout counter is not terribly interested and my husband is now bagging the groceries in the sacks we brought, I go on with the conversation in my head — which is where I often carry on very long and spirited discussions.

You think we’re boring now? You should have seen us when we were younger! I think, going into a long, involved reverie about Storied Grocery Carts of Our Married Past. We used to get nothing but frozen dinners — chicken pot pies, enchiladas, pizzas! Doritos! Deluxe ice cream (since, as I often told people, I was on the Haagen-Dazs diet)! Cigarettes by the carton, beer by the six-pack, wine by the vineyard!

We were profligate, we were thriftless, we had parties that lasted till dawn or till everybody passed out. We were lighthearted, we were rowdy, we were — as is true of the young, in general — not nearly as fascinating as we thought we were.

But you know, eventually we all get the tab. Today’s total is close to $150 for a bunch of measly organic food. Or, if you want to see the total tab on a life of continued profligacy, after youth has fled and tables have been folded so you can’t crawl under them any longer, see the movie Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle. It’s about the famous writer and Algonquin Circle wit, Dorothy Parker, and it does not end well or attractively.

I suppose none of us end as well or as attractively as we’d like, but there’s something to be said for eventually growing up and eating your vegetables — especially if you’re not a genius like Dorothy Parker.

I would tell that to the young woman behind the counter, but she looks preoccupied. Strange knocking noises do that to you.

(Copyright 2013 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read about sharing your birthday with a big, dead bird


20 comments… add one
  • I’m glad you are eating organic. That is so important, avoiding toxins in our diet, even for older folks like us. I hope you did not touch the receipt, since it probably was coated with BPA, which the EPA wanted to list as a “chemical of concern” but could not get the White House Office of Management and Budget on board.

  • It’s funny how the older you get the more you have to deprive yourself to stay alive. And how you really don’t mind it as much as you might think!

  • Sheryl Link

    Really too bad it costs so much tone healthy, especially in the food department. It’s nice to think about those bad old days, isn’t it?

  • Now that you mention it, I often look at what’s in my cart and compare it what’s in the carts of my fellow shoppers. There’s the cart that makes no sense pushed by a single dude cart. There is the cart of the young mom who just had another baby. She looks so desperate to be out the house and so fearful that she may never get out again that her cart is overflowing. One night after a particularly grueling bout of eldercare, I stopped to get a few things. The checker — as they are trained to do — asked how I was doing. I couldn’t help myself. I said, “Based on what I’m buying, you tell me.” Insert theatrical pause as the 2 of us look at the 2 tubs of ice cream, bottle of pop, and a candy bar. Our eyes meet, and we both burst into fits of giggles. The food we buy is revealing. I’m glad to hear you’re eating well, even with the $150 tab.

  • So true… thanks for the laugh, and the reminder that youth is wasted on the young.

  • Funny how we decide to eat healthy food when everything about our health is going to hell in a handbasket. Not totally sure of the benefits, either? Adding a year between 90 and 95??

  • Hope you’re in line at the grocery store in front of me sometime. I do notice what people buy and develop scenarios around their pile on the checkout belt.

  • This is so, so true! How is it that I used to be able to ingest CheezIts and Pepsi and Snickers with nary a care, and now if I eat that crap I’m sick for days? Has the “food” changed? Has my body changed? Am I (just maybe) smart enough to recognize that crap feeling now?

  • Craig Smith Link

    Don’t worry. I am eating all the gluten, saturated fats, and carbs for the both of you

  • Funny how we compare our lives with strangers in grocery store lines. I recently was in line behind a woman who was buying fresh flowers and two huge party platters of fruit. She was beautifully coiffed and she was wearing a pressed white blouse, khaki slacks, and cute little flat shoes with flowers on them. I was buying twenty cans of cat food, cat litter, and a 3-way light bulb. And I was wearing sweat pants, black clogs, and a black t-shirt covered with—what else?—cat hair.

  • Ruth, as often happens, you make me laugh while throwing grains of serious truth. I’m laughing this time though because while I’ve eaten my share of Hershey bars along the way, I was always the one getting odd looks for loading up on fresh veg and fruit years ago. Never have had much taste for processed food. A habit that’s stood me in good stead over the years, as it turns out, though I still get the odd look now and again. Go figure — I just like fruit and veg!

  • Adam Link

    Try the market at republic square on Saturdays. Same healthy stuff, at least a day fresher and usually half the price.

  • My husband usually does the groceries, since he’s the cook around here. It’s a good thing he does, because I must confess, my grocery shopping habits haven’t changed much since my younger days. Sometimes I’ll go shopping with him because I get tired of not having any snack foods around (he never buys snack foods, unless I put in a special request). I do, however, read labels and look at calories. That kind of counts, doesn’t it?

  • Cindy Link

    In 25 years, my husband had been shopping with me maybe twice. Tops. He’s like a kid throwing in all the candy and cookies and sparkly things. But more and more men are doing the shopping, calling the wife for brand verifications. Does me good to see it!

  • Jenny Link

    Like yours, the contents of my grocery cart have changed. Evolved, if you will.
    What hasn’t changed, though, is my inability to buy only what I need. I end up putting way too much into the compost heap. At least I have organic compost to put on my garden, where (in season) we grow lettuce, onions, sweet potatoes, basil, cilantro, carrots, beans, and melons.

  • merr Link

    Funny and relate-able!

  • All I can say is thank god my husband does the grocery shopping and cooking, because he feeds us very well and as reasonably priced as is practical in this day and age. We do, however, make a good team at the local food co-op or grocery store. We get in the door and I say, what can I get, and he sends me on missions to the coffee section or egg bin. It’s a great adventure.

    And I had to laugh at Vera’s comment – yeah, that extra year to get to 96 will be so worth it.

  • Christine Link

    I’m glad you’re eating healthily! Though I love the stories of your “profligate past” as well. And I love that you and your husband are such an efficient team when it comes to buying groceries.

  • As a nutritionist, I can’t help but assess what everyone around me is piling in their carts. And, of course, making judgments about it.

  • Kathy Link

    I talk to preoccupied check out clerks, too. I’m always a little surprised when they just don’t seem interested.

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