UNLIKE most men, I like to grocery shop.
Grocero ergo sum. I shop, therefore I yam. (A little supermarket humor.)
Don't get me wrong, I'm not a Bargain Bozo. I confine my shopping to three supermarkets--Magruder's, Giant and Safeway--all of which are within two miles of my house. I won't drive 15 miles out of my way to save 10 cents a pound on pork loin; it's not worth the time or gas. And I won't buy things I don't use simply because they're on special. What good is yogurt at half price if it tastes like a mouthful of goat?
After a year as a daily shopper--I was working at home, writing a book, and I broke up the day by going on marketing runs--I have come to see shopping as a game to play and win. Me vs. Them. Sure, sometimes they're going to win; I felt that after enjoying his films, I owed Paul Newman one impulse buy of his salad dressing. (I'm ever so grateful Sigourney Weaver doesn't market whole sides of beef.) But why pay $1.49 for it, if you can get it on sale for 98 cents? So I take almost as much time preparing to shop as I do shopping. I clip coupons. I write out a shopping list. I study the Sunday, Monday and Wednesday food ads to compare what Magruder's, Giant and Safeway have on sale. I can't tell you what a thrill it is to read that on a one-day special Magruder's will sell asparagus at 89 cents a pound, when Safeway and Giant are charging $1.69. That's a big save for me, like coming out of the bullpen with the tying run on third and striking out Pete Rose and Mike Schmidt.
To tell the truth, I can't fathom why more men don't see it the same way. It's a lot harder memorizing the nicknames in the USFL than the standard costs of meat and chicken. And once you get a sense of what things usually cost, you just wait until one of your local markets undercuts another on the same item. For example, whole fryers routinely cost about 69 cents. But at least once a month a store puts them on sale for 49 cents, sometimes even 39 cents. There's no excuse for paying list price for chicken. It's the same with more expensive cuts of meat. Loin lamb chops normally sell for as much as $5.19 a pound, but periodically a store puts them on sale for $3.49; last summer I paid $3.19. And it isn't like you have to know someone to pay that either. They don't give you the lamb from the trunk of a car under the freeway in the middle of the night.
I've heard men complain that shopping is "women's work." By that they mean it is beneath them. That's not just sexist claptrap, it's economic idiocy. Men who say that often wind up in a so-called "convenience store" paying about $15 a pound for the convenience of breaded chicken cutlets that taste remarkably like linoleum. There's nothing inherently female about knowing the difference between chuck and duck. Wise up: Food shopping is an equal opportunity game.
Personally, I like to shop in the morning, between 7 and 10. Then the meat and produce bins are full and the selection is best, the aisles are relatively clear, the shoppers are relatively polite, and I'm usually the only man in the store not wearing a white apron. (I often wonder if pharmacists and barbers ask for a professional courtesy discount at supermarkets.) I carry my shopping list in one pocket, and my coupons in another.
Sure, there are items I prefer above others; bibb lettuce; Cadbury chocolate; Claussen pickles; Philadelphia cream cheese, Schrafft's ice cream, Utz thick pretzels. And, on occasion, I have paid more for these items than I wanted to. But I'm only brand loyal if the specific product has proven its merit to me over time, and if there is a recognizable difference between it and its competitors. You're a loon if you're brand loyal to eggs, butter, aspirin or laundry detergent. You're also a loon if you don't buy paper goods on sale in bulk. What's the point of buying one roll of toilet tissue? You planning on not having to use the bathroom next week?
One last hint: Wherever you shop, you ought to try to get to know someone who works at that market. You'll be surprised how much more relaxed you'll feel spotting a friendly face among the teeming horde wheeling their shopping carts through the produce department like they're going for the checkered flag at the Indy 500, and how much more confident you'll feel about being able to decide whether to buy an eye round at $2.39 (good price) or the first cut brisket at $1.89 (great price). I'm thankful for Artie, who works behind the fish counter at Magruder's in Chevy Chase. I don't know his last name--we're talking food here, not stocks and bonds--and he knows me only as the guy who loves swordfish. But he will save a certain piece of fish for me, or trim a piece of meat a certain way for me, and over such little things is loyalty forged. He is to grocery shopping what a good, ethical mechanic is to car fixing--difficult to find, and worth the effort.