Monday, April 09, 2007

Providence of the Most High

For about a year I’ve been feeling guilt over my food shopping habits. Part of what has made life in Binghamton bearable is my weekly trip to Wegmans, our local super market/grocery store, whatever you want to call it. Other options in town include Giant and something called, I think, Price Chopper (haven’t been) and of course Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart. But from day one I have steadfastly and indulgently gone to Wegmans.

Here are some of its finer features:
* Customer with child and stork parking
* Large/enormous produce/fresh food section including local produce and organic food (not that I’m willing to pay more, but its available)
* Perfect Bagels
* Large variety of good quality Wegman’s brand foods and products which are significantly cheaper than name brands. For example, I exclusively buy Wegman’s brand butter, coffee, meat, diapers, formula etc.
* Large bulk spice and health food section.
* Beautiful and convenient lay out.
* Several cart options—very small two tiered cart for quick shoppers, standard size, two tiered option with two child seating, large enormous SUV cart where children pretend to drive car
* Very good coffee and cart cup holders
* Restaurant section with very eatable sushi, subs, Chinese food, Italian and very interesting soups and salads

This is just a short list. I think about my Wegman’s trip all week. I dress up for it. And I enjoy it the whole time it’s going on.

However, we’re basically poor. There are 5 of us, soon to be 6 (including 2 in diapers) in this house and we’re really pinching to make it on Matt’s extravagant priest salary. If it weren’t for the rectory, utilities and health insurance provided by the church, we’d be on food stamps. But by God’s grace we’re eking by and learning to be frugal. And this necessary frugality has introduced, in the back of my mind, a nagging feeling that I ought to be shopping at Wal-Mart. Most people in our church shop there and Giant (our quick stop if we’ve run out of milk (half the selection, none of the savings) and look at me askance when I talk about running all the way to Wegmans (I mean! It’s a 15 minute drive). That’s so expensive, they say.

And so, in the power of our resurrected Lord, after sleeping until nearly 10 o’clock because Matt is so wonderful and didn’t wake me up, I decided to check it out—Wal-Mart that is. I ran a comb through my hair, warmed up the car and drove over there. I even parked and got a cart and went in and spent a whole hour, AND, just as much money as I normally spend at Wegmans WITHOUT getting everything on my list. I still have to get back in the car and go to Giant because I couldn’t find light bulbs, or decent chocolate and I gave up looking for frozen peas.

AND I came home shattered. I collapsed on the couch and had to be revived with tea and some child’s left over Easter bunny.

And, even though you may not care to read it, I have to put down what Wal-Mart was like, in comparison both to Wegmans and all the hype about Wal-Mart, just to process the experience.

Upon entering I was confronted with disorganized and badly presented bins of produce, some of them full of rotting vegetables and fruit. I’m not joking, at least three bins with much of the food rotting. No asparagus, mushrooms (I wandered around looking and gave up), zucchini, lettuce (unpackaged), seedless cucumbers, I could go on and on. I ended up with a bag of wimpy looking tomatoes, a bunch of bananas and a bag of spinach. Now, if I had wanted precut, pre-washed, pre-handled carrots, those were in a abundance. But really not much else. This was deeply frustrating because half my grocery cart, generally, is vegetables that I bring home and cut and chop and wash and cook myself. So I don’t know what we’re going to eat this week, except bananas.

From there I went to meat and poultry and found it all very expensive. I got half of what I normally get. Good thing we have leftovers from Easter dinner because otherwise we would be starving this week.

Milk was, admittedly cheaper, but not butter, eggs, cereal, OR diapers, amazingly. And then I wandered the entire store twice, including furniture and shoes, looking for shampoo and cat food, which turned out to be far away from everything, in the corner, so that I would be sure not to find it. Furthermore, I was constantly stumbling over people stocking the shelves, in the middle of the day (1pm in fact). Nearly every aisle was being stocked and there were whacking great obstacles everywhere. By the end I had a splitting headache and wanted to cry (but then, right now I want to cry all the time, so that’s not the best indication of anything).

So here are my general Thoughts:
If I wanted to buy pre-done cheep frozen food, I think Wal-Mart would actually be an excellent and economical choice. The frozen section is easily accessible and well marked, unlike Wegmans where the frozen section is at the back of the store, far from everything else.

Probably one of the reasons we’re all reasonably sized people is that we buy food uncooked and cook it ourselves. And one of the pleasures of cooking is beautiful ingredients. And Wegmans provides those beautiful ingredients, many local, many exotic at a very decent price in an attractive and easily accessible venue.

Wal-Mart must either by lying or going down hill. I’m not opposed to low prices, in general (I’m looking for them) and don’t think Wal-Mart is an evil gigantic corporation that is ruining the soul of America. I do think it’s really very unpleasant. The lighting is poor, the layout is poor, the checkout system is inefficient, AND the prices are not that great, at least in food. I have yet to check out all the other stuff—office supplies, furniture, other stuff I don’t need right now and hopefully won’t for a long long time. And so for all the people going there, at least to the one here in Binghamton, NY, I don’t at all agree that it’s the best deal. I’m going to assume Walmart is not lying because I have no proof, and am going to go with the theory that they’re going down hill. And by gum, they better do something about because I don’t see how they can compete against other stores with the product I just experienced.

Which leads to me to my final thought/realization. I am a consumer, I do have go out and buy stuff for us to survive. I don’t have time to dig up my bag yard and make it into a vegetable garden and then preserve all the produce to get through the winter. My time is better spent building up the church and looking after my family. (I do have time to make my own bread which, by the way, was made difficult by the expensive flour provided by Wal-Mart and the lack of choice.) And so, while I am a consumer, I am consumer with a spiritual soul and my experience of shopping should feed and nourish my soul, while drawing out of my pocket book. It should not deplete and exhaust me, unless it is really severely cheaper. And so I chalk this whole day up to the providence of God in his care for me. My guilt is laid aside. I don’t have to go somewhere unpleasant and am allowed instead to be sustained by my weekly outing out. Thank God! Happy Easter!


Ruth said...

Funny, I went to Walmart for groceries today, and thought, I hate going to Walmart, but the groceries are really much cheaper than where I usually shop. Maybe I should start going on Friday nights at 11 p.m. so it won't be crowded. My bill was $10-15 less than usual. But that's probably because I rely on a lot of convenience foods, unlike your much healthier preference for fresh stuff. Glad you now feel justified in continuing to shop at your favorite store. Happy Easter!

Byrd said...

A few years ago when we had a brush with a hurricane and lost power for 3 days, we ended up going to a Walmarts in search of more candles. I'd been in others, but my husband had never been in one before. (We went there because it was open and had power.) I hadn't liked Walmart before and after the visit, my husband agreed with me. It was ill-kept, untidy, poorly arranged, dingy and unpleasent. From what I know, the employees aren't paid on a good scale or get decent benefits. A lose all around

Carrie said...

I saw a comparison of Giant, Walmart and Wegman's on some basic foodstuffs, and nothing wooed me away from Wegman's. I think where it gets me is some of the more exotic choices -- all of the sudden I NEED that 4oz of "aged five years" French cheese. But the problem there is not so much the store as my poor impulse control.

Anne Kennedy said...

Yes, I know, I have to keep fixed in my mind how little I want to spend and how fabulous I'll feel when I go under budget. Lately I've taken to walking through the olive section and drooling and then trying to go away. I should just by pass it all together. Have you tried the spanish cheese section? Very worth a look.

Anonymous said...

Huzzah Wegmans! I do admit, it is a beautiful store... the produce section anywhere else in town makes me cry. I'm glad you don't have to suffer through Wallyworld or the GhettoGiant. ;)