We sometimes do grocery shopping for 31 people, most of whom we don’t really know. We do this shopping for these people because they are all in a 3 year 3 month 3 day silent meditation retreat in the foothills of the Chiricahua Mountains. Four of our friends and teachers are on this retreat and to help them we began assisting with the grocery shopping for all the people on the retreat. We do the shopping about once every two months. We mostly shop at Trader Joes and Sprouts.
We get these long lists and then have to hunt for all the things on the list. The lists are divided by store. We have developed specialties, so Robert handles the cheeses and the yoghurts and I do the fresh produce, breads and canned goods. We have learned about the dozens of kinds and brands of cheese – Swiss, gouda, feta, cheddar, parmesan, Asiago – cheeses made from sheep’s milk and goat’s milk, as well as cow’s, soft cheeses, hard cheeses, skim milk, low fat, full fat, blocks and shredded. The same goes for yoghurts – so many different kinds and we have bought them all. Doing this shopping, we have learned a lot of things about these stores and about the products that they carry or don’t carry. For example, there is a wider variety of produce at Sprouts, but TJs has the best deal on bags of arugula and packages of Persian cucumbers. Trader Joes does not carry Colby cheese for some strange reason. Peanut butter and cashew butter are much cheaper at TJs, as is Aloe Vera juice and ginger beer.
Shopping for other people is difficult and it is especially difficult if you don’t know the people. I always try really hard to find all the items on the list, because I think about those people, who are expecting this food and I don’t want to disappoint them. I always think that the one thing we can’t find may be the one thing that someone is really looking forward to, and I don’t want to let them down. We have problems with things on the grocery list that are too specific and that are not specific enough. For example, someone asks for Nancy’s soy plain yoghurt. Sprouts often carries Nancy’s yoghurt, but if they don’t have it, then we have to decide if the person just wants soy yoghurt or if they only want Nancy’s brand. Another item on the list might be low-salt pistachios. We can find salted pistachios or unsalted pistachios, but no low salt ones. So we decide that limited salt is important to this person, so we buy unsalted nuts. But then, because the list didn’t say shelled or unshelled, we have to decide which to get. So we make the decision to get unsalted, out of the shell pistachios. We have to make many decisions like this each shopping day and hope we are guessing correctly.
It is interesting to see what other people are eating. I learned about all the different kinds of kale and chard, as well as mustard greens, collard greens, dandelion greens. Sometimes other shoppers come up and ask me how I cook these things – since I am buying 15 bunches of them. I have to tell them that I don’t know, that I’m not buying them for myself. There are always things on the list that we can’t find and things we’ve never heard of. We usually end up getting help from the store employees. Each shopping trip is a challenge and a little like a puzzle – it is a good thing that I like puzzles!