In the past, going to the grocery store was just an errand squeezed in during a busy work week. Grab what you need and go.
But, three changes occurred in my life that altered my perspective on grocery shopping.
First, I got the Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyzcyn, and learned to use a "price book.” Also, I limited my grocery shopping to one day a month and learned to cook some basic recipes like the Universal Casserole, Cuban Bread, various "baked" potato toppings and more. The recipes replaced my usual potato chips and PB&J dinners, and the microwave frozen dinners I took to work for lunch.
The second change was when I moved back home to live with my elderly mother. She had stopped cooking, so I learned to make Reuben sandwiches, dump cake, grilled cheese sandwiches, crock pot dishes and more, always attempting to make dishes my mom would like. The crock pot made me look like a good cook. They are amazing.
At that time, I went to a day-old bakery for breads and sweets, an Asian market for eggs and other items, and a grocery store with lower prices for the rest. When I went grocery shopping, it was a break from work and some time alone, where I explored each aisle looking for bargains, examining new products and thinking about what mom would like.
The third change came years later. I traveled to Mexico and wrote a cookbook for noncooks. Now, I continue to research and try “new” recipes.
So, when I go grocery shopping now, still approximately once a month, it is like a mini-escape from the world where I still explore the aisles and ponder ideas like 'how did this can of Heinz potatoes get here?'
Maybe it was trucked from a farm in the U.S. to a canning factory, then trucked to a U.S. shipping port, then moved by ship to Mexico, then trucked to a distribution center and finally trucked to individual stores? Most of the food in grocery stores, around the world, travels thousands of miles from farms to stores.
I love the Ad Council's media spot on The Life and Times of Strawberry which highlights some of the rigors of food transportation and distribution.
Among expats here, there is a saying, “If you see a product you like, buy several because it may not be there next time.” So, when I see canned chicken, I buy several because it may only be on the shelves for a short time and not replaced for many many months.
When I first came to Mexico, the contents of the shelves in grocery stores were puzzling. I remember being amazed at the rows and rows of canned corn.
I wondered, “What do they do with all this corn?” I don’t have the final answer but I am living in the land of corn. It is worshipped and is part of Mayan mythology and many Mexican recipes feature corn.
Also, I saw lots and lots of hotdogs of various brands and types. I still don’t know what they use all these hotdogs for, there is a snack made from fried hotdog slices, street vendors do sell grilled hotdogs, and hotdog slices can be found in several recipes in restaurants. But, I never hear the term “backyard barbecue.” I have never been invited to a Mexican barbecue. Hamburgers are becoming popular but that does not explain all those hotdogs.
As I push my cart up and down the aisles, I still think of mom and often buy products she would have liked, like sauerkraut for Reuben sandwiches.
Mom was a great cook. Nothing I make compares to her dishes. I remember she was always trying new recipes and hated it when we kids turned up our noses at some new dish when we wanted "pigs in a blanket" (hot dogs with cheese wrapped in bacon).
American, British, Japanese, and food products from around the world can be found on many aisles these days.
I like Earl Grey tea from Bigelow (another item I buy several of if I see it).
Also, I am always amused when I see the familiar, famous Kraft blue box of Mac & Cheese.At one time, this was a mainstay meal for me. But, now, I can make my own "Mac & Cheese" from scratch in a variety of ways.
When I go grocery shopping, I also like to discover new items like this one: “powdered butter." I found it on my last trip. I've never seen this before. I used it. It does taste like butter, hummm.
I remember when a recipe called for descented onion juice. I thought, 'why bother'? But, powdered butter could be useful.
This spice is made by McCormick.
McCormick like Heinz and other American brands can be found more frequently in “high-end” grocery stores.
I am intrigued by the penetration of U.S. products into the Mexican market.
Coca Cola has been here for decades. It was one of first things I noticed. You could see the battle between Coca Cola and Pepsi played out in the economica cocinas.
These cafes carry either Coca Cola or Pepsi products and for their patronage, the soda companies provided lots of plastic tables and chairs emblazoned with their logo, so when you scan the landscape, you see Coca Cola won the war by the number of Coca Cola tables and chairs versus Pepsi's.
Hurray! On my recent trip to the grocery store, I finally found “Wagon Wheels” or Rotelle pasta for the Star Trek Cookbook recipe, Garrett Wang’s Chicken and Sun-Dried Tomatoes.
I have been looking for “Wagon Wheels” for at least a year.