I do most of my grocery shopping on autopilot. I imagine most people that have lived anywhere for more than a couple of years are like this.
I get to the store, go up the escalators, and take the same route every day. I go through the produce section first, making sure to peruse all the fruits and veggies even though I always get the same ones.
Usually there are two tall Ukrainian girls there are the same time as me (I’m Ukrainian, too)— perhaps there’s some universal pull that drives us Slavic people to shop at 6pm on Tuesdays.
I squeeze and inspect a couple of avocados and end up getting three or four. I glance at the raspberries and let them taunt me. But they’re always too pricey, so I leave them be. Damn tariffs.
I grab some tomatoes and check if there’s any large bags of basil for the pesto I make. Also a quick check to see if there’s any yaki-imo (baked yam) today. Tuesday’s usually have them in stock, but if it’s Sunday evening they’re probably sold out.
Next up is fish. I get two or three pieces of fresh salmon fillets. If I’ve run out of smoked salmon, I get that too. Taking a left, I walk through the yoghurts and I may or may not grab some greek yoghurt. Lately I haven’t been into it so much.
After the yoghurts come the eggs. In Japan, they come in cartons of 10 eggs, not 12. Weird, I know. I go through one carton in two days, easily. So I get two cartons of the brown eggs.
I pick up on a smell and my mind takes me to some distant memory. I stop for a minute, doing nothing except indulging in the thought. I’m reminded of a friend that I haven’t been in touch with lately, so I take a note to drop them a message later.
My small red shopping basket is starting to get a little heavier. Swinging it by my side, I’m distracted, and almost hit an old lady in the rib cage. Disaster averted, I smile and move one.
Right next to the eggs we’ve got an unassuming section for cheeses. Not too many choices, and I cycle through cheddar, mozzarella, and camembert.
Even though my choice doesn’t change much, I make sure to pick up some of the cheeses to inspect them. What am I looking for in this inspection? I’m not really sure, but it seems necessary.
Lastly, I make my way up another set of escalators and grab a plastic case of almonds and a bag of macadamia nuts. I browse, never really buying anything else — unless I’ve run out of organic coffee and coconut oil, of course.
People watching is a favorite past time of mine, so my wait in the line is always a real pleasure. I ask myself, ‘what is that person thinking right now?’ Perhaps a worry or wish. Or maybe they have to go to the bathroom. Either way, it’s fun to analyze their facial expressions.
Before I know it, I’m paying, loading up my groceries in my eco-bag (if I haven’t forgotten it), and I’m on my way home to cook. As you can probably guess by this routine, my recipes are highly unoriginal. I often cook variations of the same thing.
If you ever come over for dinner, you can bet that we’re going to eat some salmon, yams, eggs and avocados.
To eliminate or not to eliminate?
Yesterday I noticed, for the first time, that the grocery store provides a cheap delivery service. ‘Ah yes, that sounds like a good idea,’ I thought to myself.
Since I buy the same stuff anyways, I could eliminate this routine that I repeat day in and day out. My mind raced and I started to calculate how much time I could save every day, week, month, year….
Nah…I like shopping for groceries.
Besides, my apartment is 8 minutes away from the store, I’m not disabled and I’m not lazy (usually).
Sure, it’s more efficient, it saves time and possibly money. No doubt about that. It’ll give me time to do other more ‘important’ things, like working on stuff.
But here’s the catch — there is nothing more important.
The grocery store is as good as it gets.
An inconvenient pleasure
You may hate grocery shopping. As you stand in line, frustrated at the slow cashier, you may feel a wave of hot anger slowly rising from the bottom of your back to your neck. People are wasting your time — ‘fuck this,’ you think. You hate doing the same shit every day.
But I don’t. I like the routine.
There’s something about grocery shopping. The small habit is part of the bigger ritual of the day. There’s a momentary break that I get, and I take particular joy in claiming a slice of the day as my own — despite it being in an unassuming and crowded place like a grocery store.
People complain about traffic, shopping, taxes, and all the things they need to do.
How can we eliminate it all?
How can we get rid of all of the inconveniences in our lives?
How do we live better?
The problem is that as soon as we eliminate one stressor or solve one problem, another one pops up. Buying a car solves one issue, but creates others.
Even after we achieve something ‘good,’ the feeling is transitory and we remain unhappy. After the marathon is over, we wonder what’s next.
We’re not hard-wired for happiness. The quest to eliminate is a quest for escape, and the quest for escape is a quest for control.
Ultimately, we want to control our environment. We seek the high of power more than we seek the inconvenience of truth.
The truth being our current situation — I’m a dude in a grocery store. I’m just like everyone else. I’m not special.
Elimination vs. appreciation
Is it possible that we’re asking the wrong question? Perhaps instead of eliminating (making an external change) we should just suck it up (making an internal change). We should stop thinking we’re so important and appreciate what’s around us.
I’m not saying you should continue bad habits and enjoy time-wasting activities in some weird masochistic way.
There’s bad stuff you can get rid off, for sure — but usually it’s the big stuff that weighs down on us. Bad relationships, debt, bullshit jobs. So, get rid of the big ones.
Then there’s the flip-side: learning to enjoy what you do have. You don’t have to eliminate everything, but rather get better at appreciating what you have.
You know, like shopping for groceries.