Sunday, January 5, 2020

The modern hunter-gatherer.

Alexas Fotos | Pixabay | CC0

The Washington Post published an op-ed this weekend that has raised a few eyebrows. The author of this piece is a middle-aged white male who works as a creative director at an ad agency in Cleveland, and he says everyone should do what he does and shop for food every day. Not just at one store, either. No, this overachiever visits three or four a day, and five or six on Saturdays.

I'll save you from struggling with the paywall and sum up his argument: Shopping more often keeps food waste down. He says, "In the United States, we waste up to 40 percent of the food we produce, and a sizable chunk of that comes from people throwing away spoiled food, which, in landfills, releases methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Planning ahead might be good for retirement, but not for food shopping. How do you know what you’re going to feel like eating for dinner next Thursday night? What if you end up working late? Or your kid’s soccer game goes long and you stop for pizza on the way home? There goes the graying ground meat you planned to use tonight."

But saving the environment is a side benefit to his real reason for living the way he does: the joy of the hunt. He shops every day, or nearly so -- at an Asian market, an Indian market, a Lebanese market, his neighborhood grocer, the local farmers' market, and so on. An avocado, he says, is only perfectly ripe for six hours, and he's willing to go to five stores to find one.

He is, in sum, the modern hunter-gatherer. Let's call him MHG for short.

My mother was a hunter-gatherer, too. Thursdays were for grocery shopping. On Wednesdays, she would sit down with the local paper and go over the display ads from the grocery stores. She would write down who had what on special that week, including the sale price. She clipped coupons. And on Thursday mornings, she'd drive the 20 minutes to town to do the circuit. When I was a kid, it was National, A&P, and Kroger. Later, she added Al's. Then it was Al's, Kroger, and Bernacchi. (We had a Jewel but Mom thought they were too expensive.) When my hometown got an Aldi, she added that to the mix.

But all of them were grocery stores -- not the sprawling supermarkets of today. You can get through a little grocery store quickly, especially if you stick to your list. Mom would leave around 9:00am, visit all the stores, and be home by lunchtime. And too, she could shop on a weekday morning when the stores weren't terribly crowded.

I can't do that. And I can't do what MHG does, either. In fact, I'm one of the folks MHG takes issue with. I have a day job in a large metropolitan area. I ride public transit to and from work. My preferred time to shop is 8:00pm on a Monday, because the store is virtually empty. Weekends are impossible -- all the other worker bees are shopping then, clogging up the checkout line and snarling traffic.

And yes, I only go to one store. I might visit a second store, but not on the same day. Who has time?

I'm like MHG in one respect, though: we both live in metro areas that can support multiple grocery stores. I'm not sure he's aware of how lucky (some would say privileged) he is, but I am. I don't live in a rural area where the only choice is cheap packaged food from Family Dollar. And I don't live in an urban area where the only choice is 7-Eleven, if that. We, too, have multiple international grocers, organic markets, specialty cheese shops, and so on. I just don't feel like blowing every evening and/or a whole day on the weekend to shop at all of them.

So kudos to MHG for making his lifestyle work for him. I have zero interest in doing the same.

These moments of not-so-foodie blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

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