For me, grocery shopping is the epitome of grown-up-edness. This summer marks the first time I’ve had my own kitchen/normal-sized refrigerator and the first time I’ve had to do my own grocery shopping—it’s a daunting task. When I was little (whatever, until I was nineteen), I kind of assumed that groceries were just always there. I rarely made toast only to discover we were out of butter. I never poured a bowl of cereal only to find that the milk had gone bad. I was under the impression that certain things were inexhaustible resources, permanent and self-replenishing presences in our fridge and pantry. When I moved into an apartment, I found out this was not, in fact, the case, and the first time I rolled out of bed and came to the bleary-eyed realization that I was out of coffee, I decided that I needed to make grocery shopping a more regular part of my schedule.
When I lived at home, my mother made grocery lists like it was her job: illegible documents full of arrows, crossed-out words, circles, and indecipherable abbreviations. Planning ahead is not my strong suit, so I decided I would grocery shop without a list, like the free (read: lazy) spirit that I am, and construct sophisticated and varied meals from my vast mental cookbook. I soon came to several important realizations. One: I really don’t know how to cook. Two: the substantial list of recipes I had imagined I knew consists mainly of variations of scrambled eggs and grilled cheese.
On my first solo and list-less expedition into the grocery store, I ended up with, like, 8 boxes of bowtie pasta, kale (what is it and who even knows how to cook it?), and Hot Pockets. Grocery shopping without a list also necessitates my returning to the grocery store at least four times a week to pick up items that I inevitably forget: this week it was—so far—strawberries, deodorant, and Ben and Jerry’s Mint Chocolate Cookie ice cream.
Every time I go grocery shopping, I’m overwhelmed by the fluorescent lights, the high ceilings, and the moms in yoga pants who power-walk through the store while simultaneously throwing Slim-Fast into their carts and quieting the seven screaming toddlers who trail behind them. I awkwardly manhandle an unnecessarily large cart—always the squeaky one with the broken wheel—while I try not to run into the towering pyramids of tomatoes and microwaveable bacon. I suspect that the entire store gets rearranged between my shopping trips: I go to Aisle 8 for whole-grain white bread but I find pickles and soup, which I swear were in Aisle 11 last week. I break into a cold sweat while I ponder the apparently infinite varieties of frozen pizza—do I want a pepperoni DiGiorno, or the spinach one from California Pizza Kitchen, or the organic one in the cool-looking box?
Speaking of organic foods and cool-looking boxes, I am every brand’s favorite kind of consumer because I am a complete sucker for any kind of advertising whatsoever. Buy three jars of mustard, get two free? Sign me up. Juice that promises to eliminate your appetite while accelerating your metabolism while perfecting your complexion? Check. Cereal with a hilarious cartoon character on the box? Put it on my tab. I also have a deep and conflicting desire to be the kind of person who buys local produce and tofu burgers and organic bread and puts it all in environmentally friendly canvas totes (conflicting, because in reality I have an innate love for processed foods, I am a voracious carnivore, and I always use plastic bags). These two tendencies result in a cart full of products I will never use and a total that is always at least fifty dollars more than I intended to spend.
When I exit the store, dazed and squinting and physically exhausted, I fling my groceries into the backseat and drive back to my apartment. I schlep the bags up three flights of stairs, the weight of the plastic handles cutting into my arms because I am disinclined to make more than one trip, and drop them on my kitchen floor. I put away the collection I have accrued—pretzels and bologna and pesto and a baguette and Fruit Roll-Ups and five different celebrity gossip magazines that all have the same story on the cover, among other things—catalog the items I have forgotten, and find that I have absolutely nothing with which to make even an adequate dinner. Falling back onto my couch with a sigh, I call in an order to the sushi place down the street—one shrimp tempura roll, one California roll, and edamame, please and thank you—and think that I am nowhere near grown-up-edness.