Occasionally, I stop in for a few things at one of the handful of smaller grocery stores in my area. Not quite a bodega or corner market, these are true grocery stores that have somehow survived the Mega-Mart grocery takeover of the last several decades. I don't always get to shop at these places due to their location and (sometimes, but not always) higher prices but when I do, I notice that I just plain enjoy the whole experience.
In contrast, the word 'enjoy' never appears when pushing a grocery cart the size of my bathtub down the aisles of Target, an event which is thankfully even rarer for me than a small grocery store visit. I just don't respond to the bigger-is-better approach and find the whole experience alienating and strange and even kind of creepy.
This is a very personal response and please don't think that I'm hating on the Target experience. If it works for you, or if it is the best option for your life, then I hope you find some pleasure in what it offers. After all, weekly grocery shopping is a given and if you're going to have to do something every week, or even twice a week, then should, if at all possible, be somewhat enjoyable or interesting. At the very least, it can't suck.
But I have to admit that whenever I shop at Star Grocery or Monterey Market, the two small grocery stores in my area, I always come away happy and inspired, something we usually don't look for in our food shopping experience. I always get a little ping of excitement when I enter the Monterey Market. What will I find today? Be it a strange and new mushroom or a bag full of discounted peppers, I know that there will be something there that makes my day. (And will probably make my dinner later that night.)
These aren't super fancy, boutique places either. In both stores, the floors are worn and at Monterey especially, you have to watch for puddles from the ancient leaky cold cases. They both have old battered wooden shelves and tiny shopping carts. Most people grab a hand basket by the door and if you're smart, or if your days are flexible, you'll come early to avoid the crowds which basically happens any time there are more than 20 people shopping.
When I think of the things I am grateful for in my life, I find that I am most grateful for the things that stayed smaller, that adapted and changed over the years but did so slowly and in keeping with a more human-felt scale. I know there are challenges with that way of thinking and I'm sure some economist can talk circles around my theory. But I believe that ultimately, the endless choices and efficiency of the big boxes don't contribute much to a happy life.
I suspect, too, that you can accuse me of being nostalgic and romantic here, but I don't mind. I know what makes me most happy, and I know that feeding my heart is just as important as feeding my belly. I wish the same for you, too: Be it at your funky local grocery store or the latest big box market, I hope you notice a little ping of pleasure when you grab a cart and wander the aisles. Everyday pleasures in an everyday life. This is path to true happiness.
(Image: Dana Velden)