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Grocery Shopping Rant

Now that I have been On My Own for well nigh a year, I wish to discourse at some length on a topic of some annoyance to me: to whit, the difficulty of shopping for groceries for one person. Even shopping for two is bad enough, but for one is terrible. Those of you lucky enough to reside in the UK, with access to lovely Waitroses and M&Ss and Tescos, with their gorgeous array of small tempting portions of all variety of foodstuffs for every budget may smugly avert your eyes, or read on, in sympathy for those of us in North America.

I get so tired of being unable to get single portions of things. It's fortunate that I have several four-legged friends who can share a can of tuna or sardines, but what about soup? And it seems the smaller your budget, the larger the sizes. The supermarket near me with the lowest prices is also the one where I am unable to buy less than 1 litre of milk (which I can't finish before its sell-buy date) or an unbelievable 2 litres of soy-milk!

And the absolute worst is vegetables. Forget salad. You have two options there: you can buy the loose organic mix where you can get a very small amount but it goes bad after about two days, or you can get the stuff in the plastic clamshell. The consensus from friends of mine in the same boat is that the clam shell stuff is fresher and lasts longer and you can see the sell-buy date, but still I've never yet finished a whole package before it went off. Why the HELL can't they make small clamshells? They do, in fact, because they use them to sell pre-fab caesar salad for one at exorbitant prices. But why can't they do a nice fresh baby greens mix in a half shell? Notice I'm not even talking about whole lettuces or anything like that because they're just too big and wasteful. I don't remember the last time I actually finished a cucumber. And don't get me started on bean sprouts or snow peas, which for some reason our local supermarket has stopped selling loose and only sells in packages large enough to serve a Chinese New Year's banquet. Yeah, I know, you should buy local, fresh produce. But not all of us are lucky enough to live near a produce market or have a car to get to one, or the time to shop more than once or twice a week.

To be honest, things have improved, but when I thought about it I realized that "they" seemed to think that whoever it was who was buying small portions of things was a) relatively well off and b) had fairly sophisticated tastes, that is would prefer something with sun dried tomatoes and avocado oil to Kraft dinner.
Being, in fact, both of the above, I guess I shouldn't complain (except about the vegetables), but what about my student woman or man on a very tight budget, forced to eat monotonous meals for lack of small portions? What about the blue collar man who buys bulk luncheon meat and puts it in the freezer? I still remember my university friend Michael, who bought a case-lot of tuna and ate tuna-fish sandwiches every day for almost a whole term.

There are glimmers of hope: "Single Gourmet" microwave pizza! Wonderful. Stouffers single serving lasagna is divine. (for those of us in Victoria) Thrifty's stuffed chicken breasts and the Market on Yates (but that's pretty high-end). Let this trend continue! Can it be all that difficult to cater to the single person? Are there so few of us????


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 4th, 2007 03:36 am (UTC)
I've been catering for one most of my adult life, and it seems to get harder rather than easier. My grocery store is barely carrying small cans of fruit or single-serve cans of chicken any more, though I can still get milk by the (US) pint most of the time. I'm forever throwing out half-loaves and the tail-ends of salad bags, too.
Jan. 4th, 2007 04:57 am (UTC)
Re: Sympathies
Oh gosh, yes, bread! You're either forced to eat buns and keep them in the freezer, or to buy the kind of bread that is so stuffed full of preservatives that it glows in the dark. My freezer is full of tail ends of bread that I don't have the heart to throw away right away and think one day I'll turn into croutons. A couple of months from now it'll get thrown away, mind you.
Jan. 4th, 2007 05:01 am (UTC)
Re: Sympathies
There's always crispbread. I think that's what my mother lives on when I'm not around, and I usually keep a pack in the cupboard for emergencies, but it's not the same.
Jan. 4th, 2007 03:57 am (UTC)
I've just given up on ever finishing a bag of salad before it goes. I probably could, theoretically, eat my way through an entire bag of salad mix before it went slimy, but theory doesn't take into account the unfortunate effect on my alimentary tract of a surfeit of cellulose.
Jan. 4th, 2007 04:58 am (UTC)
Sometimes I get clever ideas about making lettuce soup or something. Usually it just goes on the compost. At least I _have_ a compost. sigh.
Jan. 4th, 2007 09:00 am (UTC)
I was going to say WORM FARM, then I got to your comment about a compost heap.

But seriously, I have the best fed worms this side of the equator!
Jan. 4th, 2007 06:32 pm (UTC)
Yes - I have extremely well fed detritivores :) At one time my compost box was inhabited by red worms, so was a combined compost/worm farm and extremely efficient. They seem to have got tired of the monotonous diet of organic salad leaves and moved on :)
Jan. 4th, 2007 01:31 pm (UTC)
I've pretty much given up on salad unless it's summer and I know I'll eat it, although I will buy shredded cabbage. It lasts much longer and you can use it as a base for Asian salads, etc. But mostly, I spend far too much (cheese doesn't come in small packages) or cook too much and eat it. ON a good day, I cook something that can't be mistaken for less than two full meals, and then freeze the leftovers. Where I live, one can buy boxes of kosher soups in the frozen section, two servings a box. On sale, they end up being less than a dollar each. And for veg, I tend to buy frozen, so I can cook smaller portions. Buy chicken breasts, freeze all but one ...
Jan. 4th, 2007 06:37 pm (UTC)
Yes - there's a couple of varieties of organic soup that come in tetra pacs that I like. Not both available at the same market, of course, and not always available in the 500 ml (2 cup) size in the flavour I like at the market that I shop at. This necessitates special trips to a particular market to buy "roasted carrot" soup and to another to buy "creamy tomato" - but that's okay. On the whole I dislike frozen veg, but agree that's a sometimes necessary solution. And yes, chicken breasts are wonderful. As is my toaster oven :)
Jan. 5th, 2007 12:54 am (UTC)
I read something, I think in Mother Jones, some years back that said that, unless your veg are local, you may be better off eating frozen, because they are often fresher than the stuff at the supermarket. Time to freezer bag is less than time to market and sitting around once there. I was raised on frozen veg, and don't much care or notice. Really fresh, I can taste the difference.

I sometimes think that's half the taste difference in good restaurants. They often do buy local and have access to fresher produce.
Jan. 5th, 2007 03:13 am (UTC)
I think I read that, too. I just need to learn how to cook frozen veg so that they're not all watery and horrible. I'm sure it's possible. Frozen fruit is fine; I have a small deep freeze in my basement and put blueberries and raspberries in there either from my garden or from local farms, which is really nice.
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 5th, 2007 02:03 am (UTC)
urgh, don't remind me of the college cafeteria. It's ghastly. I do soups in a thermos, or left-over stir-fries for my lunch (we have a microwave in the dept, lucky us). and yes, I agree about the expensive seafood. In fact, I'm having "west-coast hand peeled shrimp" tossed in some Thai red curry sauce with slices of red pepper, and the afore-mentioned snowpeas and beansprouts over rice noodles for my supper tonight :) Somehow 100 grams of shrimp doesn't seem so extravagent!
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 5th, 2007 03:15 am (UTC)
Oh, I like the Thai place on Blanshard the best. But I do like Thai Bistro. And don't be too jealous - I'm just using Thai curry sauce from a bottle; but it's actually quite good :)
Jan. 5th, 2007 12:55 am (UTC)
Gods I miss wild Pacific salmon. Really dark orange and rich and creamy ...
Jan. 6th, 2007 03:04 am (UTC)
Of course... if they didn't make you buy ridiculously large quantities that always go bad, how ever would these poor people make any money?
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )


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