Friday, January 30, 2015

Small is Good!

I can remember how grocery shopping was for me over 25 years ago. We lived in Portland, Oregon and had a Costco membership, which we were very excited about getting! At the time you had to be a state employee or something to be a member--we couldn't just walk in and fill out a form without some kind of corroborating evidence that we qualified. When I started working as an assistant to my Japanese teacher at the community college I was attending at the time, I was able to bring in a paycheck stub and we signed up. The whole warehouse idea was a novelty then and I loved being able to buy in bulk and stock up on stuff. We had also discovered Fred Meyer--again, this seemed like quite a new idea when we first moved to Oregon from New Hampshire. Now it's commonplace to see stores that sell everything under one roof--automotive parts, hardware, underwear, clothes, and groceries--but back then such stores were not so widespread. These stores seemed almost as cavernous as the warehouse stores!

I got used to shopping in such large spaces and having to choose between many products. I learned pretty quickly how to find what I wanted while ignoring everything else around me. I still do this and it has worked well for these few decades--until the stores remodel! Then I have to find stuff all over again and it annoys me quite a lot!

We still had huge stores when we went to Fairbanks--there were two Fred Meyer stores there and a Sam's Club. I was used to it. When we moved to southern Oregon, it was just me and Bill and we no longer had a need for a warehouse store, so it didn't bother us that the nearest Costco was over an hour away on the other side of a mountain range. I went into that store with a friend once or twice and saw that membership there would not be worth it to us, even if it was in town--and there's no way in hell I would ever make a trip of that kind for the purposes of shopping, but many people did just that. We still had Fred Meyer and a local "chain" called Sherm's, where we did most of our shopping. Sherm's eventually remodeled and they were also huge. Huge was the word when it came to grocery stores!

Then we moved to Maine and I was taken aback at how small Hannaford, my local supermarket, seemed. It did take a little bit of time to get used to the small size, but I did and I found that I liked the smallness of it. Then I started volunteering at Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program and I got quite an education in food waste. A volunteer from MCHPP went every single day to Hannaford to pick up boxes and boxes of food that would otherwise have been thrown away. One of the things I did was to work with other people in the food bank to sort, trim, and prepare this food for distribution in the food pantry. Some of it got used in the soup kitchen, too. There was so much food from that one little grocery store and the same size store in a neighboring town. I still sometimes think about how much food must be wasted in other places I have lived, with their cavernous stores and seemingly endless stretch of aisles stuffed full of food and pseudo-food. These towns did not have the kind of organization or volunteer base to collect the food on a regular basis so it could be redistributed. I was already rather passionate about avoiding waste, but my views about this became firmly entrenched during the time I worked there. It's a moral and ethical issue for me.

So here I am in rural, small-town Ireland. I am sure that cavernous stores exist somewhere on this island, but I have not seen them. I have a Tesco on the outskirts of town, which is probably slightly bigger than Hannaford. We go there once or twice a month to pick up stuff--like extra mature cheddar--that we can't get elsewhere in town or that is significantly cheaper--like dark roast coffee. There's a Country Market on Main St--he sells produce, jam, and eggs. We buy our eggs there and pick up some other stuff from him on a regular basis. It's great to stop in, get what we want, and have a little chat with the guy. We do the bulk of our shopping at the small SuperValu store that is about a 3 minute walk from our apartment.
I have come to really love this store! It has everything we need (no extra mature cheddar, but they have other good cheese), their prices are good, and they are small--so easy to pop in, pick up what we're there for and pop out! And the people who work there are really nice. I find that I really dislike going to Tesco now--it seems so huge. This makes me laugh, because had I entered it a decade ago, it would've seemed tiny in comparison to what I was then used to. The cereal aisle in both stores is still amusing to me. I'd gotten used to scanning two walls of cereal in little Hannaford to find what I wanted. Here there are a few boxes of a few kinds of cereal and not many brands. The store brands are amazingly cheap and the boxes are big--it's just the basics--corn flakes, bran flakes, or bran flakes with some dried fruit. Hot cereal means primarily porridge oats, although there's an Irish brand that sells "jumbo oats" which is like old-fashioned oatmeal in the US. No flavored oatmeal here. No Cream of Wheat. No Maypo. Oats. I love this.

We stop in at SuperValu when we need more milk or a loaf of bread, or when we want to pick up stuff that's on sale. Every time we go in, I head for the clearance shelves to see what's there. There is no organization to collect the discarded food here--they could use an MCHPP! Everything seems to be dated--even produce, which mostly comes pre-packaged--and this means that when it gets close to the date, it gets pulled and the price gets halved. Next stop is the garbage, from what I can tell. Needless to say, I buy stuff from here when I can. I don't buy beef or other stuff we would not eat, but I cannot stand the thought that all of this perfectly good, real food will get thrown away. And the lower prices are good for the food budget, too--it's a win-win. At least a little food waste is avoided, I get more food per euro spent, and the store saves on disposal costs.

Today our bargain purchase was a bunch of cheese (the peaches in the background were just sitting on the counter waiting to be used in some bread).
I picked up 3 bags of shredded medium cheddar, 4 small wheels of hot Mexican cheese and 1 of oak smoked cheddar, and the ball of mozzarella. I buy the shredded cheese when I see it there and stick it in the freezer. I can take it out and let it thaw or use it frozen from the freezer. It's handy to have! Last weekend we decided we wanted pizza for supper at the last minute. I took out a packet of pita bread from the stash in the freezer (bought a bunch on clearance, of course!) and a bag of cheese. I had some fresh tomatoes, so I sliced those, but if I hadn't had them, I would've used tomato paste instead (called puree here). I sliced some garlic, onion, and pepper and half an hour later we were having some really good pizza for 2 for less than 2 euro. Took a lot less time than it would have to go out and get a pizza and we didn't even have to put on our shoes. :-) So the shredded cheese is in the freezer and I may shred some of the other stuff and freeze that, too--we'll see how it goes. I will make some Mexican mac and cheese for supper tomorrow and make enough for Sunday, too. I have learned here to see what turns up and I am always ready to improv with whatever I find and to change my food plans as necessary.

Speaking of improv, I have some peach bread with coconut and cinnamon in the bread machine as I type. It's for breakfasts. I am curious to see how it comes out!

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