Saturday, January 17, 2009

Day 9, Saturday: Supermarket Sweep

Adam has to go to the grocery today, and I’m totally on board. As a small child, my father taught me that Saturday is free sample day. He also taught me that there is no shame in visiting a particularly good sample table as many times as they'll let you. I may not be able to buy groceries, I can sure make the best of a grocery visit. I grab a falafel patty on the way out the door, in case the pickings are slim.

Just as I have been a lifelong liberal, so have I been a die-hard Kroger shopper. By default, Adam became a Kroger shopper when he assumed the bonds of matrimony. Sure, Kroger’s lighting and interior design isn’t as good as Publix, and they don’t offer nearly as much choice in organic produce as Whole Foods, (which is fine, since I’m way too poor to buy organic) but what they lack in aesthetics and/or variety they make up for in price. Its fine with me that they don’t have organic chai latte muesli, since I was going to buy store-brand raisin bran anyways.

A sweep of the entire grocery store reveals that the effects of a poor economy have spilled over into the free sample arena. Typically one will find at least a meat and cheese roll-up in the deli area, but no such luck. Today, Kroger has two samples: (1) Rachael Ray’s new line of dog food, and (2) fresh baked bread. As I’m not quite desperate enough to eat dog food, even if it is made by Rachael Ray (who, not satisfied with taking over every other market, has now moved to pet food as well), I stick with the fresh baked bread.

I had forgotten how good bread was, not having purchased any premade, or having the ambition or skill to make my own. Since there doesn’t appear to be anyone monitoring the bread sampling area, I return three additional times, slathering my slices with the butter offered in compliment to it. Overcome with a piggish euphoria, I tell Adam to pick me up next door at Publix. I’m going to check out their sample selection.

Almost as soon as one enters Publix, she is met by a woman (it is, as far as I can tell, invariably a woman) in a little booth . When you meet her, this smiling hair-netted woman will be working away over a crock-pot and a skillet, preparing some sort of meat and side dish combo. Along with a cocktail party sized plate of whatever she’s whipped up today, she’ll hand you a recipe card so that you know which Kraft or Tyson products to buy, should you wish to recreate what you just got for free.

Today I am treated to a Sun-Dried Tomato Artichoke Chicken With Arugula Macadamia Salad*

I don’t want to complain, since I really didn’t earn this food, but I will anyways. The food looks pretty, and the recipe might actually be good if made by the right person. It appears that my sample chef, although fairly attractive and extremely friendly, isn’t the best cook. The chicken is tough and the vegetables are mushy, and covered with a slimy film.

Disappointed, I head on over to the deli where I am delighted to find my favorite cheese, smoked gouda, is in mine for the taking. Things are looking up. I eye a turkey luch meat sample. A woman, possibly aware that I've spent the better part of the morning sample swiping, uses her cart to block my way in an uncalled-for attempt at vigilante justice. I push through and she is unable to prevent my access to the turkey lunch meat sample. In today's first example of instant karma I drop the damn piece of turkey on the floor almost immediately. With a smirk on her face, cart-lady prepares her new defense strategy. I don't have the energy to wrestle with her again, so I forego a replacement turkey.

Adam isn’t out front when I’m done. I consider going back for seconds but decide against it. As it turns out, Sun-Dried Tomato Artichoke Chicken With Arugula Macadamia Salad (SDTACWAMS) and I will meet again later today

Julie and I have a shopping date at Atlantic Station because Old Navy is having a “big sale.” Incidentally, the sale is bullshit, and, if you want my opinion, Old Navy has gotten a little too big for its britches. Considering the quality of the product, I think anything on “sale” at Old Navy should be under $20. But I digress- Not having found anything to our liking at Old Navy, we visit a few other stores and head out. As luck would have it, Matt asked Julie to stop and get him some Dr. Pepper while she was out, and Atlantic Station features none other than a Publix, which both sells Dr. Pepper AND offers SDTACWAMS samples. It's better this time. And Julie is nice enough to give me the macadamia nuts off her Macadamia Nut Salad. Score!

Back home, Adam and Matt are watching football, and I’m starting to come down off the SDTACWAMS. Suddenly, I’m struck with a brilliant idea. I should hit up a few of the other, more high-end grocery stores and see what kind of swag I can score there! A scavenger after my own heart, Julie graciously agrees to escort me on my adventure.

The smell of patchoulie drenched Yuppies parading as hippies permeates as we enter the clean and colorful world of Whole foods. All shapes and sizes of overpriced tropical flowers and organic produce flood the eye with a rainbow of unnaturally natural reds, greens, yellows, violets, and oranges. The unchecked, and unvaccinated children of parents who don’t believe in discipline run amok as they child-handle the posh fruits and vegetables that they’ll later reject, throwing them in their parents' faces, screaming for Chicken McNuggets. I forgive the Yippies their contrary ways, and not just because they're paying for all the free samples I’m about to dig in to. It’s actually kind of cute how the color in their face matches their tie-dyed shirts as they yell in the face of the produce workers, demanding to know why there isn’t any Blueberry Pom today.

Julie and I gorge ourselves on two types of oranges, apple cider, tilapia in a dill cream sauce, hummus, some sort of weird cheesy crab dip, carrots in two separate kinds of ginger miso dip, salmon salad, some fresh baked bread, pannatone, and some tortilla chips (they were all out of salsa.) We buy nothing since (1) we never intended to, and (2) even if we had intended to, we were full now.

Although apparently not enough to invoke immunity from instant karma, I offer to let Julie wait in the store while I get the car, since it‘s raining fairly hard, and she has charitably agreed to accompany me on the tour d’ samples. Unable to locate my bright blue vehicle, I walk up and down the rows, finally locating the car, but then having to dig around in my gigantor purse for the keys. Wet, but not deterred, we head on over to Trader Joe’s to “sample” the local fare.

Besides being known for its beloved “Two-buck Chuck,” Trader Joes, the K-Mart of organic foods markets, is as fun and happy as a chain supermarket can get. The employees all wear Hawiian shirts to match the tropical murals on the walls. With a surprisingly nice price to delicious ratio, Trader Joe’s only drawback is the somewhat limited selection. On sample day, however, TJ’s doesn’t fail me. Their only sample is a green curry meatball, but I eat four of them to make up for the lack of variety.

Today, I enter an all new level of grocer enlightenment. Up until this point, I had been all too blind to the fact that Kroger has been robbing me of the free samples I deserve. But I’ll probably keep shopping there, since I’m afraid of getting the measles, mumps, or rubella.†

Best in Show goes to whole foods for taste, diversity, presentation, and quality.



  1. Sunday morning is also an excellent time for samples at whole foods. Get there a leetle before 11, and you'll get the food they've prepared for the after-(Unitarian Universalist) church crowd.

    I'm talking good shit, too. One time I got snausages and scrambled eggs.


  2. Good thing don't live in BC; it would cost you $30 in gas to get to a sample store.

    You should find someone with a Costco card and tag along.

  3. Have you consider the free soup kitchens in your area?

  4. I am perplexed at the seeming contradiction between refusing an Oreo (in exchange for platelets, no less) and increasing your carbon-footprint driving around looking for sample food. It would seem that your objective (life as someone who has access to but thirty dollars of food per month) is not consistent with the sampling. Putting aside the "can the 30 dollar a month person afford the car and gas to do that" issue, I tend to think that Whole Foods, Publix, etc. would ever so subtly weed out "the homeless" looking for SDTACWAMS.

  5. Last Saturday Elizabeth and I did this same thing only just at Publix and TJ's, because we were in the mood to cook stuff. TJ's had lobster ravioli which was delicious, but then when we went to buy some all the packs had mold growing on them.

  6. That was a great day for us! Who needs "deals" at Old Navy when there are amazing free samples to be had at Whole Foods. We should do it again sometime.