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A Method to the Madness


FOOD FOR THOUGHT - February 20, 2008 - Mark R. Vogel - [email protected] - Mark’s Archive

Do you have a particular strategy for food shopping?  Is there a rhyme or reason to what and how you buy?  Do you have predetermined days or times set aside for shopping or do you fly by the seat of your pants?  Individuals’ approach to the supermarket affords us a glimpse into their life in general and their relationship with food in particular.  Clearly the demands and/or constraints of ones’ life, in conjunction with the role food plays in it will influence ones’ acquiring of it. 

     Below I’ve outlined some general categories of supermarket shopper.  Although there are inevitably, innumerable permutations, I think most of us would more or less fit into one of these rubrics.  Each style has its pros and cons but regardless of the cost-benefit analysis, each method works for the individual employing it, because it reflects their own personal needs and values.  For example, if you have become more interested in food and cooking during the course of your life, you might have noticed a change in how you perform your food shopping.  Perhaps you approach it more reflectively, taking time to immerse yourself in the task and examine the food.  It is this person, colloquially known as the “foodie” to whom I ultimately speak. 


     The regimented shopper typically has a demanding life and unyielding schedule.  They’re juggling career, parenting, and various other extracurricular activities.  They might have a dose of obsessive-compulsiveness to boot.  They usually have a specific time frame, on the same day each week, to perform their nourishment acquisition.  The regimented shopper plans the week’s meals so that everything required can be purchased during the allotted time slot.  The regimented shopper is impervious to what day the sale starts, when the freshest produce arrives, or when the lines are bearable.  They shop when and where they do to keep their bustling schedule running as smoothly as possible.  Many regimented shoppers feel food shopping is a necessary evil; another task that must be scheduled into their busy lives.  A good portion, but not all, of their raw ingredients will be canned, boxed, or processed in some manner.  There’s lots of 30-minute mealers in this group.



     The harried shopper hates food shopping.  Their disdain for the chore goes even beyond what some regimented shoppers feel, only they don’t have the organizational skills to manage it.  The harried shopper is almost certainly not a foodie.  Food, cooking, and food shopping is just one big pain in the………well you know.  Moreover, because the whole experience is so unpleasant, they refrain from even planning it.  They go when they are forced to and struggle to get it over with as quickly as possible.  They scramble for the best parking space, haphazardly rush through the aisles, fight for the best place in line, don’t bother with coupons, and white knuckle the steering wheel on their way out of the parking lot.  For them, a “raw” ingredient is anything that requires heating up after being removed from the package.  Harried shoppers with hectic demanding schedules are the most harried of all. 


    As its name implies, the sale shopper is motivated by maximizing their shopping dollar.  They peruse the sales flyers, clip coupons, and plan their shopping to coincide with the advertised specials.  They are the least likely to be loyal to a particular supermarket, opting instead for whoever has the best deals that week.  The sale shopper will search for the “manager’s specials,” buy in bulk, be flexible with brands based on price, ensure the clerk rings up every coupon, and never forgo a rain check.  Buying something on sale with a double coupon is the shopping orgasm of the sale shopper.


     The recipe shopper is one who has a specific meal or meals planned, usually from scratch, or nearly so, and whose primary motivation at the supermarket is to procure those specific ingredients.  They might have a certain day they prefer to shop, they might be in a little bit of a hurry, and they may have a coupon or two but, what they really want is to make that braised brisket they saw on the food network.   The recipe shopper is food focused.  They’ll go to the more expensive or busy supermarket if it means obtaining a particular ingredient.  They may even visit two stores if their first choice comes up short for their specific recipe items.  Some recipe shoppers are regular shoppers who metamorphosize into recipe shoppers due to special occasions like holidays.  Thanksgiving has the greatest power to transform regimented and harried shoppers into “Martha Stewart’s turkey recipe” shoppers. 


     The foodie is the most serious about food.  I would include professional chefs in the upper echelon of the foodie category.  Foodies are passionate about food; so much so that they even love food shopping.  (I can see the jaws of throngs of regimented and harried shoppers dropping in disbelief).  The foodie revels in causally strolling through the aisles perusing the offerings.  Foodies may have a specific recipe in mind but here’s what really separates the men from the boys when it comes to food shopping:  The foodie is not locked into their recipe.  If they’re making asparagus soup and the asparagus is icky, they not only know how to identify inferior asparagus, they can change gears.  If the carrots look fresher, they’ll make cream of carrot soup instead.  Foodies search for the freshest ingredients and then make a recipe out of them.  They scrutinize the produce and meat selections on any particular day and then decide what to make for dinner.  This is how many professional chefs shop.  They’re sniffing out the best products, not the best deals.  They demand superior ingredients, know how to recognize them, and can design a meal impromptu.

     Foodies patronize the markets with the highest quality produce and meats.  Other than price, there’s no difference in canned or packaged goods from store to store.  A can of Campbell’s soup is the same wherever you but it.  But perishable items can vary greatly from purveyor to purveyor.  Foodies will drive the extra mile and pay the extra dollar for top notch raw ingredients.

     Obviously, an in depth knowledge of food and cooking is necessary to identify quality in various types of produce of meats and be able to throw together recipes on the fly.  Only the most passionate about food will study it to that degree.  But those of you with less time or interest can still learn something from the foodies.  As stated, the benefit of being a foodie is you’re always utilizing the best products but that requires flexible menu planning.  If your weekly meals are more regimented or you must work from a recipe, at least try this:  Go to the store with additional recipes in hand.  This way if the ingredients for one are not available, not fresh, or not on sale, you can change direction and still have a map.  A best of both worlds approach, shall we say. 

     Unless you’re one of those poor souls who don’t prepare meals from scratch, eschew raw ingredients, and don’t follow recipes.  Where “cooking” means opening a box or a can and heating up the contents.  Then what I recommend for you is not a supermarket strategy, but a good dining guide.  There’s definitely something to be said for having someone else do all the work as you relax and enjoy the spoils.  Whatever camp you’re in, eat, drink and be merry!

Also Visit Mark’s website: Food for Thought Online

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