The golden age of grocery shopping

This week’s blog post is by WDP co-host Matt Rocco, who lives in the Edgewater Glen neighborhood  of Chicago with Professor Foster ( his “Brown Mom” wife), and their 3-year old daughter Viva, who now won’t run an errand unless she gets sushi, gelato and a jazz ensemble.

On April 18, the new Whole Foods on Broadway in Edgewater will open with much pomp and circumstance (and a barbecue!). I look forward to its bar, cafe and exotic cheeses, which will allow me to imbibe and nosh in style while shopping for sunchoke and $25 pints of pomegranate juice.

In the meantime, I often drive to the mega-Mariano’s in Ravenswood, where my daughter can ride in the faux-vehicle cart of her choice (she’s partial to the pink racecar and the taxi) while I wander around with a 20 oz glass of Revolution Anti-Hero, and she eats Tiramisu gelato, all while crossing items off of the list Mommy gave us and making no rush to get home.

Is this real life?

When did this become how people shop for groceries? When did they add the grand pianos?  And the sushi and the ribs and the free cookies and the CRAFT BEER? When did the average food run become as festive as a Chicago street fair, minus the rad ’80s tribute band, Sixteen Candles? My child must feel like Ricky on Silver Spoons who had a ride-on train in his living room or the bratty kid in The Toy who had Richard Pryor in a big hamster wheel.

Who knew I would someday look forward to buying groceries and that Viva would run to the car to help me shop? Grocery stores in the city now rival exploratoriums and children’s museums for fun and distraction. And did I mention the booze? When I have my daughter with me, I sometimes feel like I’m the only grown-up in the store who isn’t borderline stumbling with their Olivia Pope-sized goblets of red.

I’m becoming the grumpy old man who grouses about how much harder it was in his day … except I’m not grumpy about it at all. Things are so much better now! A trip to the grocer in the ’70s and ’80s meant, if you were lucky, that you would get a box of Franken Berry to turn your stool pink while the grown-ups bought Steak-Umm and cigarettes. (Or whatever adults ate while they splashed on their High Karate and straightened their Sansabelt slacks.)

True, we could peruse a rack of copies of Marvel’s Rom: SpaceKnight that only cost 35 cents. But, when we left, it was mostly with a feeling of crushing ennui (that Carter era malaise!) and a grocery bag full dressing packets that called for the addition of sour cream. Think about that … salad dressing required multiple components. I’ll never tell Viva I grew up in an age before shelf-stable creamy dressings. She wouldn’t believe me that life was ever so hardscrabble and miserable.

Now I’ve got a 3-year-old who literally requested a chance to sit down and eat Philly Maki with wasabi before we went any farther towards the produce. Just the Philly part was weird in my day, never mind the maki part.

True, the good times don’t come for free, and the “stock-up” items on the grocery list might still come from an Aldi’s or a Trader Joe’s. But even those are chockablock with organic and gourmet items with shockingly low prices. Goat cheese under $2.50? Tell that to my grade school self with my Pac-Man watch and powder blue shorts with piping.

What deprivation will our children think we survived when we tell them that we once considered picante sauce to be exotic and that we made ice tea in bacteria-ridden jars on the driveway, instead of buying it infused with lemongrass and ginseng in BPA-free containers?

And this live music thing. My daughter might grow up without ever having to listen to Air Supply’s “Even the Nights Are Better” while her tiny feet dangle off the ground as she clutches a box of pizza rolls. God willing, she’ll never know the tune to Christopher Cross’ “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do).” She has no idea what sonic nightmare we went through to help Mommy and Daddy restock the pantry.

She won’t see the terrifying visage of Bat Boy glaring at her from the cover of the Weekly World News while a cashier slowly types in the code for every item of produce and each customer searches for a pen to write a personal check. She won’t wait through long price-checks over distorted walkie talkies while headlines of Burt and Loni’s breakup scream past the racks of Tic Tacs. She’ll never think that a can of La Choy Chow Mein is the ne plus ultra of ethnic food.

So, raise your glass to the new grocery shopping, then set the glass in the drink holder of your cart, and get back to your lift. Tell your little one we’re living in a golden age. (Oh, and I think I’m going to pick up some of the La Choy Chow Mein … do they still sell that?)

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