I’m writing this with a heavy heart and an even heavier cart: that is, a cart laden with jumbo-saving sized packages whose providence isn’t Italy, France or even Mexico. My grocery cart, ever since I left teaching and its monthly salary, such as it was, no longer contains items that have crossed any borders save for the ones between some factory town in Scranton, Ohio and my little hamlet in the foothills of Northern California. I’m saving money, to be sure, but my palate is paying the price.
It warms my heart to know that a lovely little factory in a quaint, smog-choked town somewhere in the middle of the United States is the place my canned tuna calls home. Gone are the days of the tender fish packed in olive oil and imported from Genoa, or Sicily. Now, my cupboards overfloweth with items from places not even remotely Mediterranean. Western Family Spaghetti Sauce has replaced Pietro’s Marinara. I don’t even like spaghetti. The very least these mass-producing food manufacturers can do is a little research. If they did, they’d find out that a sauce isn’t defined by what it tops; it’s defined by what’s in it. That’s why the Italians call it marinara – because if you would like to, you can put the meatless sauce on fettuccini, eggplant, polenta or any number of other things beside boring old spaghetti.
Speaking of pasta, too bad the only brand I can afford now doesn’t even offer anything as exotic as angel hair. I bought Billy Bob’s Noodles the last time I went shopping. Why would a company call their pasta product Billy Bob’s when it would have been just as easy to pick Salvatore or Luigi? Can’t they at least humor me?
Now when I shop, I do it with a calculator in my hand instead of an iced mocha. Not only that, but the once entertaining business of reading labels to make sure that the oil in my salad dressing is virginal has been replaced by the punishing practice of comparing costs per ounce of various brands. How the mighty have fallen. Now, I buy three pounds of ham at Costco and slip half-pound portions into plastic fold-over baggies which are stored in the freezer until needed. I can no longer afford the nifty little re-usable plastic tubs that I used to buy. Sniff, sniff.
What’s worse, I’m becoming my mother: I buy things like that giant, dreaded green canister of parmesan cheese (or so they say it is) that I’ve long criticized her for doing. Don’t for a second think I splurge on Kraft. Nope, it’s Select Brand Parmesano, with the fake fancy ending thrown in, as if it has any more connection to Italy or its culture than my neighbor’s German Shepherd who dumps on my lawn every morning.
I must admit that my new adventures in grocery shopping are adding some spice to my life. Granted, it’s Steve-O’s Chile Seasoning and not Miguel’s Mole, but you can’t have everything. In fact, I’ve got a mantra that I repeat to and from the store, one that motivates me to keep my chin up and my eyes on the prize (lower grocery bill): “I’m working from home, I’m working from home, I’m working from home…”