Wednesday, April 30, 2008

On My Mind: Grocery Day

Today was grocery day. It's always, and I mean always, an ordeal. Even when I go at 10:30 in the morning when they're still stocking the shelves and your few fellow shoppers are little old ladies with pushcarts and women blocking the aisles with strollers. I used to hand-carry all my stuff home, lugging a couple bags in my backpack and grabbing a couple bags in each hand, but now I have this ugly, but functional, folding cloth grocery cart. I console myself with the thought that I'm saving at least 10 paper bags each time. Lugging it up and down subway stairs sucks and I'm never able to buy everything on my shopping list b/c I run out of cart space and arm strength. Today, cauliflower, yogurt, oj, milk, eggs, brie, mozzerella, and chocolate were casualties. I always feel like such a pack mule. I remember the days I just loaded up my trunk and drove home. Anyway....!

Today, I did something different. In my effort to eat more locally, I stopped at the Union Square Greenmarket before heading to Whole Foods. In all these years of walking through the Union Square Greenmarket, I never really stopped to notice the variety of foods you can get here--beef, seafood, turkey, honey, flowering plants, baked goods, apple cider, bread. The honey guys actually bring their bees with them. I sucked on a small spoon of honey the guy gave me as a sample while eyeing the bees-- they were eyeing me back resentfully. "Hey lady! Where you going with our honey!"

I don't know why I have such a hard time buying food at the Greenmarket. It's the prices, I think. There was an article about the high price of organic food in the NYT recently.

In the end, I did buy a pound of cod from the fish guy, figuring it'd be fresher and tastier for tonight's dinner than the frozen stuff at WF. I also picked up some organic portobello mushrooms for $7.00/lb. I couldn't believe the price. I felt pressured to buy b/c I was the only person in the guy's stall and he'd been watching me mumbling to myself about the expense. He wasn't very nice, actually. Charged me $7.14 for a pound of mushrooms - you would think he could have rounded down at least. Oh well. Farmer's lives are hard, I reminded myself. But then I got to WF's produce dept and saw that portobello caps were $3.49 a package. I felt a little screwed. A dollar difference, maybe two, I wouldn't have felt so bad.

Which got me thinking about this constant problem I face grocery shopping in NY--not knowing what's a good deal. How can you tell when everything is overpriced? To solve this problem, I've started a spreadsheet where I record prices of items I regularly purchase from the different markets I most frequent--Whole Foods, Gristedes, Zaytuna, Fresh Direct and deli downstairs and this is what I've noticed.
  • There's a reason WF is my all-around favorite--their 365 private label is often cheaper than the equivalent at the other stores and unless you want to trek to Chinatown for produce, there's no more convenient source produce. Yes, there's Manhattan Fruit Exchange and the Greenmarkets, but I'm talking about one-stop shopping here. It also beats Gristedes, whose quality and prices are iffy. What I buy at WF: meat, produce, bread, cheeses, cereal, specialty items, like capers and sun-dried tomatoes, snacks
  • Zaytuna is very competitively priced, and being right around the corner from me, a great convenience. What I buy here: herbs (basil, tarragon, etc), mid-week replenishment of fruits and veggies, pasta, yogurt, cheese, milk & OJ (b/c it's easier to carrier from here)
  • Gristedes depresses me, but I go there b/c on a few items, I'm very brand loyal, as you can see from what I buy here: Quaker Oats oatmeal, Hellman's mayo, Shake and Bake, Skippy peanut butter.
  • My deli well, downstairs. I don't even have to change out of my slippers to go there, but I was surprised at how decent their prices can be. What I buy here: beverages, milk, eggs, snacks
So there you have it. I'm still learning. Soon, I'll be reciting prices to you like my mother - "Ack! 3.99 for grapes. I can get them for 2.99 at blah blah blah." One day, when I have kids, they'll thank me.

No comments: