This simple bit of grocery store advice will spare you a lifetime of regret. Give you back hours in your week. Bring sanity back to your everyday life.

I met a woman from Denmark last week. She’s been living in the United States for about a year. I asked her what she liked best about our country.

Her response (paraphrased as best as I remember) was immediate:

You're not going to believe it, but it's Stop & Shop. And all the grocery stores like it. In Denmark, we spend half of our weekend shopping for food. Bread from the baker. Meat from the butcher. Produce from the grocer. It's ridiculous. You Americans put it all under one roof. I can finish my shopping in less than an hour. It's an amazing innovation, but I still watch my American friends drive everywhere for their food. This at Whole Foods. That at Trader Joes. Stew Leonard’s. Stop & Shop. Farmer's Markets. It's ridiculous. 

I couldn't believe it. I finally found someone who agreed with me on this grocery store shopping insanity happening all around me.  

I watch my friends and family members drive all over town – seemingly everyday – for their groceries. 

Meat from Whole Foods
Produce from Stop & Shop
Coffee from the artisanal coffee roaster
Paper goods and cleaning supplies from Costco
Prepared foods from Trader Joes
Pet supplies from Petco

This is not an exaggeration. At a dinner party recently, a friend lamented that more than half of her marriage has been spent with she or her husband shopping for food.


People tell me that it's outstanding quality and low prices that they seek. This place has the best meat. That place has the best fruit. This place has the best prices on paper towels.

It's insanity. And it’s a mistake. A terrible, nonsensical mistake, for two reasons:

1. If I conducted a double-blind taste test of food quality between these stores, no person could reliably tell the difference. If I prepared a dinner of roasted chicken, asparagus sprouts, wild rice, and an apple pie for dessert using food purchased from Whole Foods, Stop & Shop, and Stew Leonard’s and asked you to tell me which one came from which store, there is no way you or anyone else could consistently tell me the difference.

It feels good to think that you are improving the quality of your family's food, but it's an improvement that exists almost entirely in your mind. 

2. More importantly, even if there was a discernible difference in quality or taste between stores, this marginal difference is not worth the time spent shuffling off to each of the stores for what my friend described as half of her married life.

This is what the woman from Denmark understands but Americans have forgotten:

Time is our most precious commodity. It should be guarded at all costs. Valued above all else. Spent with enormous care. 

There was a time when America was dotted with bakers and butchers and fishmongers and green grocers. Like Denmark, there was a time when the bulk of Saturday was spent going from shop to shop, purchasing food for the next week.

Then we built massive grocery stores and put everything under one roof, and for a time, we were happy. My mother would do all the grocery shopping in an hour at Shop-Rite while we clung to the cart and begged for sugary cereals. 

Then something changed. Americans decided that this was no longer good. We decided that the marginal improvement in the quality of our green beans was worth the hour spent driving across town in order to purchase them. We decided that even though all of the stores have organic produce, this store's organic produce must be more organic because it costs more. We decided that it's better to buy olive oil from a store that only sells olive oil (a real thing) and pickles from an artisanal pickle maker even though we never cared about pickles very much before. We decided that the more time we spent gathering the food for our meals, the better we could feel about ourselves.  

We constantly lament the lack of time that we have with our families. We bemoan our lack of sleep. We yearn for the time to read a book or watch a movie. We dream of the day when we can write a novel, learn to skateboard, take a nap, paint the living room, or simply lie down in the grass and stare at clouds.

You have that time. You spent it driving to Trader Joes because you like their crackers.

You spent it driving to Whole Foods for their salmon.

You spent it driving to Costco to save $2.86 on paper towels.

When you're lying on your deathbed, you won’t be wishing that you had eaten more flavorful green beans. You won’t be lamenting the lack of quality quinoa in your life. You won’t be regretting a lifetime bereft of farm fresh eggs.

You’ll regret the hours spent every week driving all over town in order to marginally (and probably indiscernibly) improve the quality of food in your home at the expense of time spent on better things.  

Stop the insanity.

Place time spent with friends and loved ones ahead of the desire to optimize every food item in your cupboard, refrigerator, and freezer. 

Prioritize the things you truly care about - hobbies, exercise, books, films, those project you never seem to have enough time to start - ahead of crunchier celery, more flavorful barbecue sauce,  or cheaper toilet paper. 

Accept the fact that a large amount of the difference between these products are marginal at best and likely only exist in your mind.

Time is the only real commodity in this world. It's the only real thing of value. The sooner you embrace this reality, the happier you will be.

A simple and perfect solution to the "10 items or less" offenders

I picked out a container of pink sprinkles for my daughter's birthday cupcakes in the confectionary aisle of the supermarket.

I took my place in the "10 items or less" line. Standing in front of me was a couple - husband and wife perhaps - with at least 25 items.

Not 11. Not 12. More than twice the posted limit. 

I couldn't believe it. 

Adding to this unfathomable item count was the inefficiency of these two people. The man was bagging the groceries while the woman - who was supposed to be scanning the items - was badgering him about which items should be bagged together.

They bickered throughout the entire process. 

Meanwhile, I stood there with my $2 container of sprinkles, waiting for these two morons who couldn't count to ten to finish and move on.

I almost said something. I wanted to. I needed to.

I refrained. Rare for me, but it happens. I think it was the bickering. For whatever reason, their discord prevented my own wrath from entering the fray. 

But I had a thought. A solution to this problem. A universal fix to this age-old dilemma. 

A new rule:

If a person violates the "10 items or less" sign, he or she (or they) are required to purchase the items for the person in line directly behind them, provided that he or she has the appropriate number of items.

Brilliant. Right?

Not only does this solution offer restitution to victims like me, but it also encourages offenders to move quickly lest someone get in line behind them and earn themselves some free groceries.

In this case, I would hand the nagging woman my pink sprinkles, point to the "10 items or less" sign, and say, "Here you go, lady. Two dozen ain't even close to ten. Tell your man to bag this one separately."  

A solution, both perfect in its vindication as well as its punishment. 

 Can I get an amen?

This is the real reason you go shopping before a snowstorm

Daniel Engber of Slate offers an explanation as to why people behave like idiots before a snowstorm, rushing off to a grocery store that will undoubtedly be open at some point the next day.

The word is hunkering, in the specifically American sense of digging in and taking shelter. It’s the anxious form of self-indulgence, where fear is fuel to make us cozy.

I agree that hunkering is part of it, but I also think there is something even larger at play:

People want to be involved in momentous events. They want to feel like they played a part in a historical moment. By role playing panic – which is essentially what a person does when he or she is willing to wait in an endless line for milk that will be readily available in 24 hours – people feel like an essential part of the oncoming snowstorm. They are like actors, committing to a part that their friends, colleagues and the local media have been undoubtedly hyping for three days.

It’s no fun to be liaise-faire. Being able to remain calm in an actual emergency is a skill that is valued by all, but remaining calm in a fake emergency is no fun for anyone involved. It just makes the people pretending that they are in the midst of an emergency feel stupid or angry or both. It’s like when little kids are running around the playground, pretending that a dragon is chasing them, but one kid just stands there and shouts, “There is no dragon! There is no dragon!”

But there is no dragon, people. New England just experienced one of the worst winters in terms of snowfall ever, yet in my part of Connecticut – which received near-record snowfalls – there was never a storm that kept the roads from being cleared and the stores opened within 24 hours, and most of the time, considerably less than that.

In most cases, the roads were impassible for a few hours at best and the stores never actually closed.

My wife and I never went shopping before a storm this winter – despite the fact that we have two small children who drink a lot of milk and eat a lot of bread – and we were never wont for either item. If you don’t have enough food in your house to survive 8-24 hours, the problem isn’t the storm. It’s with the way you shop for groceries.

If you’re looking for something to panic about, why not make it climate change. I realize that it won’t allow you to go shopping (which also plays a role in the pleasure of pre-storm pretend panic), and you won’t find yourself in the midst of the pretend panicked nearly as often, but at least you’ll be panicking over something that is real and worthy of your concern.

The single greatest death bed regret of Generation X (and maybe beyond) will be this:

On their death beds, the people of my generation will lament the time the spent driving – sometimes daily – from grocery store to grocery store, chasing the freshest produce, the finest meats, the best seafood, and the lowest prices, when they could’ve been spending that time reading, watching a film, climbing a mountain, writing a novel, playing with their kids, or having sex.

My mother shopped in one grocery store for all of her life. She went shopping for groceries once a week. She made a plan. Made a list. Shopped. Moved on with her life. 

Today she would be considered an aberration. An outlier. A dinosaur.

There are grocery stores that have managed to place almost every grocery item you’ll ever need under one roof, and yet people in my generation now prefer to shop in stores that deliberately avoid stocking every item, necessitating trips to multiple stores throughout the week.

It’s insane. 

It seems as if more time is spent traveling between grocery stores and pushing carriage up and down aisles than is spent actually eating the food.

It makes no sense.

There are more than 30 full size or midsize grocery stores within 15 minutes of my home.


Good food is important, but time is by far our most valuable commodity. My generation has chosen to spend a significant portion of its time looking for parking spots, pushing carriages, waiting in checkout lines, and plucking food items off a multitude of shelves in a multitude of stores.

The 90 year-old versions of themselves are going to be so annoyed.

Santa Claus spent the day at an abomination of a grocery store, and he was BRILLIANT.

My wife and kids ran into Santa Claus at Stew Leonard’s last week. Stew Leonard’s, if you’re not familiar, is an abomination of a grocery store built to make the shopping experience as least efficient and least productive as possible. It attempts to capture some of the feel of an open market, filled with small, specialty shops (which is completely unnecessary) but instead feels more like a bastardized amusement park ride.

I went to this store once and nearly lost my mind. But my kids love it, probably because the only thing less efficient and less productive than Stew Leonard’s is small children.

But Santa was there that day, and it’s always nice to see Santa, and even nicer when it’s unexpected. Even if you’re trapped in an abomination.  

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Clara, my five year-old daughter, sat on Santa’s lap. Santa listened to her requests, and he told her that she needs to work harder at cleaning her toys.

“Did you tell him what to say?” I asked Elysha.

“No,” she said. “Apparently all five year olds can’t pick up their toys.”

I loved this Santa – maybe the Santa – both for scolding my daughter about the thing she needs to work at the most and for making me feel a little bit better about having a daughter who can’t seem to pick up a damn thing without being told to do so.

Santa’s the best. 

My younger son, Charlie, refused to sit on Santa’s lap. He was nervous. Probably didn’t want to be told to clean up his toys, too.

Actually, he’s already better at cleaning up than his big sister. Maybe Santa would’ve told him to stop wailing after waking up from a nap.