10 December, 2009

Grocery Shopping

I love to grocery shop, I mean I really love grocery shopping. If you've ever been to Market Street on a Sunday with me, or, even better, to a Whole Foods with me, you can attest that I'll spend hours walking each isle inspecting all of the items. I rarely buy much, but I love looking for new items, sampling the breads, and ogling the shined produce; peach season is my favorite. Though grocery shopping happens everywhere the cultural differences between societies are often highlighted in the way they buy and present their groceries and even the frequency of shopping trips out.
In the US everything is clearly orchestrated. Shined oranges and genetically modified apples stay in perpetual surplus stacked neatly in pyramids awaiting our touch. As soon as one is purchased or taken from the immaculate stack an army of stock people descend restoring order. Granted there are different classes of grocery stores; I have yet to see a grocery store in the US which, even at the lowest end of the scale, was anything less than representative of abundance.

A typical orchestrated produce section in a US supermarket.
Spanish grocery stores (Super Mercados)were smaller and more authentic to the human condition; nothing was shined and everything had a true to nature smell, meat smelled like meat. The Spanish system of grocery shopping is slowly creeping from separate smaller shops of panderias and canicerias to the 'all in one' connivence of Super Mercados. Though some Spaniards still hold on to the separate shop approach, which allows for specialization and thus higher quality goods, the connivence and low pricing of the Super Mercados are surely taking over.

A fruiteria in Sevilla, Spain.

Some images of a Super Mercado in Sevilla, Spain.

British grocery shopping is somehow a middle man to Spain and the US, which seems appropriate with their geographic location. Everything is sanitized, bagged, and shined. The bagging is absolutely excessive, even produce is often wrapped in plastic. Produce selection wanes throughout the day; if you go shopping at night you're unlikely to find a surplus of any produce as it's shipped in each morning. I do praise British shops for embracing the free-range, organic, vegetarian, and reusable trends in such a large capacity; even the most rough looking men at Tesco have their lady bug patterned reusable bags in toe to carry their Carlsburg and free-range eggs home in. We as Americans often have these options but they are considered fringe and often priced out of the reach of the average American who sees the green movement as an irrelevant luxury. I still carry my Twiggy Marks & Spencer reusable bag to Market Street where the confused sackers often ask if I want a separate plastic bag for my drinks or produce.

Sainsbury's produce section, at the beginning of the day.

All of these grocery stores pale in comparison to what I consider the holy grail of food shopping; I of course am speaking of the farmer's market. I adore, in every sense of the word, farmer's markets and farm shops, and I have never seen such an abundance of the aforementioned places as I did while in Britain. While living in Oundle I experienced the outdoor market every Thursday and the large farmer's market every second Saturday of the month. I could spend hours looking over the indecently cheap fresh cheeses and eggs, and even had a personalized nickname from the farm produce man, the "Texas Tornado". I still look back to my summer days in southern England and can not help but long for those grocery Thursdays; I'd give all the shined fruit in the world for the smallest of farm shops. Here's a little sample of those times..
Thursday's outdoor market; Oundle, Peterborough, England, UK.

My farm fresh free-range eggs, 2 GBP Port Salut Cheese, local Lemon Bakewell tarts, and amazing raspberries.


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