The paradox of choice: Why I hate grocery shopping

Just returned from grocery shopping and am completely drained. I absolutely hate grocery shopping in Canada. I see how and why, that the more choices we have, the more unhappy and dissatisfied we are. (To learn more about this, watch Barry Schwartz’s talk on the paradox of choice.)

I am convinced that the big grocery stores here are designed to keep us as long as possible in their stores, which is why I dread going there and put it off as long as possible (except for my weekly stops into the local Safeway to pick up fresh produce and milk, which is shopping on a smaller scale). So my fridge is almost empty and am then forced to go grocery shopping. I try to eat something before shopping, but of course I always end up ravenous while shopping in the cavernous stores. Then I get grumpy and on edge, and the stress of shopping there makes me want to give up on healthy eating and gorge on whatever junk food catches my eye at the last minute.

Today, I made my way to Superstore only to find out they’re closed for renovations, so then had to drive to the nearby almost as gigantic Save-on-foods (which takes driving twice the actual physical distance, due to the direction of the roads to handle high volume traffic). After my sister’s comment that there are prices per 100g on all products for comparison shopping, I’ve been keeping my eyes open for them and confirmed that this is not true of every grocery store. Now, I go into the store with a list of things I want to buy, and don’t wander willy-nilly, but still I end up with several unplanned purchases, such as several bags of my favorite fair trade coffee because it’s 30% off. And walking through the huge store, I start to get hungry, and decide on impulse to pick up some bread and cheese. For something as simple as cheese, the cheese is divided into 2 groups (what I assume are supposed to be “everyday value” cheeses near the milk, and “premium” cheeses in the deli) and these are at opposite ends to each other in the store. Even within each grouping, it takes me some mental gymnastics to determine the best value brand cheese taking into consideration what’s on sale, and then by the time I get to the other end of the store, I can’t remember if the one I picked up was better priced or not. Then for bread, I spend a good 5 minutes trying to pick out a loaf of bread out of the over 20 varieties available, based on nutrition, price and freshness.

After finally making it to the cashier, I glance at a sign that advertises that tomorrow being the first Tuesday of the month, all purchases are 15% off! I don’t have the energy to put back half my stuff and come back again tomorrow. Ugh. After all that mental energy expended on the dozens of decisions made in the last hour, I end up regretting that on the whole, I fared pretty poorly this evening.

If there’s one upside, it’s that I discovered that Save-on-Foods carries really good artisan breads, though a bit pricey. My dinner of pate and jalapeno havarti cheese was fantastic on the type of dense bread you might find in Europe, with lots of seeds, 5g of protein and 2g of fibre per slice of bread. I’ll have to save my rant against the general crappiness of Canadian breads for another day.

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2 thoughts on “The paradox of choice: Why I hate grocery shopping

  1. The issue with grocery shopping in Canada is our urban sprawl problem. We’re all too reliant on our cars that we’ve built things so far away from each other that it makes it a chore to do any kind of errand.

    That’s why I loved living in Westboro. It had the large main grocery store nearby (Superstore) but it was a smaller one. And then all along the main stretch of road within easy walking distance were nice little food shops…Italian deli, bagel shop, farmer’s market, bakeries, etc. But that was “Westboro village” – where they purposefully plan the zoning so that it doesn’t become too sprawling.

    But it made a nice afternoon on the weekends to walk down the road and pick up some good food. I miss that about Ottawa.

  2. I dunno, I feel the opposite. When I come home for visits, I LOVE just aimlessly browsing the grocery aisles to admire all the product choice (which I sadly can’t stuff into my luggage as I run out of space so quickly). In Singapore, I end up hitting like 3 grocery stores in a trip if I’m out to hunt for say ingredients to make brownies, stuff that shouldn’t be so impossible to find, yet is somehow. And don’t even get me started on asian breads. Lately I’ve had a hankering for some good crackers, and can’t find much selection here. I saw a box of Triscuits at an import grocery store, but it was like $5 for the tiniest box ever. What I wouldn’t do for a nice tube of Bretons!

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