For the last several months, we’ve been out of town and out of the country more than we’ve been here in Montgomery. Coming back, we found ourselves lacking in basic foodstuffs and needing to make a serious grocery store trip. So we girded up and went to the Publix on Zelda Road this weekend. No offense to the Carter Hill Winn Dixie, which is easy, affordable, and getting better all the time (though still plays really terrible music and still lacks a good vegetarian selection). We don’t shop at Fresh Market because a) we’re not rich, and b) it’s not really a grocery store. Publix is reliable and carries a surprisingly wide selection of vegetarian and vegan items. They have tempeh and plantains and the good veggie dogs and Daiya – really, it’s a very good grocery store and we feel lucky to live so close to it.
But it’s also a disturbing place. You see a number of products there that make you think simultaneously: “Somebody buys this?” and “Sigh. Somebody buys this.” The difference in inflection, the jump to the declarative that identifies your neighborhood as one where people live who actually buy these things, can drive you insane if you think about it too much. So of course we think about it too much. We took some pictures.
What follows is a sample of the products and trends we found that were horrifying, head-shaking or simply things that make you go hmmm.
1. Shouldn’t that be refrigerated?
Sure, meats and cheeses have been stored without refrigeration for most of human history. And we did just get a lecture from a fractious European cheese seller about the many ways that refrigeration can kill a cheese. But still, it’s kind of shocking how many unrefrigerated and “ready to eat” perishables abounded in the Publix aisles – including a $15 pack of cheese designed to be melted in a fondue kit. These room temp items are a plus for the preppers among us and a minus for those of us suspicious of nitrates or watching our salt intake.
2. Gee, your house smells terrible.
People of Montgomery, your homes must smell just awful. We have discerned this by noticing that Publix devotes approximately 600 square feet of shelf space to household odor correctors/enhancers. These come in all kinds, from weird little dipsticks to plug-in wafters, from old-fashioned incense to Yankee Candle-style assaults on your brain’s cherry vanilla olfactory sensors. I’m not sure what a mangosteen is, exactly, but evidently many people want their house to smell like that. And also pineapple.
The above photo demonstrates the shelf space devoted to this stuff. Everything down to the outstretched arm could be filed under the category of “anti-stink technology.”
A triumph of cross-branding, without any of the sticky residue that clings to your back molars like a bad high school crush. Except whatever caustic films they leave in your lungs after you inhale them.
So many different ways to improve your home’s odors. Or you could just, you know, clean your house.
3. Of course that’s now a brand name.
This is totally what Kropotkin intended. If you rub this on your body during a shower, the government will totally crumble. And the fact that they’ve jammed 33 percent more of this goop into a bottle not only means that our new social order will be more harmonious, but also that these bottles will fill up the landfill just a little bit quicker.
Click, swish, toss. No time for space colonies! Click, swish, toss. What is wrong with you people who can’t just have a regular toilet brush like the rest of us? Must the River Region dispose of toilet sponges the aggregate size of Cramton Bowl every year just because we cannot figure out how to keep a regular, less than $9.49, cleaning utensil around and vaguely sanitary? Answer: Yes. Re-use of toilet brushes causes Socialist health care.
Also, can we talk about your cat? And how evidently he/she needs more varieties of food than all of the “Asians” and “Hispanics” in Montgomery? Because this is wack, people – appetizers for cats? Get a grip. The economy is collapsing around our ears, but as long as Mr. Whiskers gets his amuse bouche in time for you to settle in and watch The Biggest Loser, everything will be just fine. Meanwhile, the Publix does not stock falafel mix, which is helpful in making one of humanity’s most ancient and delicious foods.
5. Nostalgia is toxic. And evidently sweet.
Need a popcorn popper? Cake pop maker? Snack on a stick maker? Mini pancake maker? Nostalgia Electrics has got you covered. And evidently Publix thinks so highly of their products that Nostalgia Products, LLC gets about the same shelf space as peanut butter. Okay, a little less, but the price per ounce is a money-maker. Perhaps Publix is just betting that your ideas are similar to notorious mini-pancake lover Lou Reed, who famously said: “I don’t like nostalgia unless it’s mine.” For the record, the “cake pop” trend is an atrocity and should be ended as soon as possible.
6. Flavor sauce is everywhere.
Don’t be shocked, but it turns out that panko-blonde Guy Fieri is a symptom rather than a cause. You may have read the recent and scathing review of The Next Food Network Star’s restaurant in New York. In case not, enjoy. We’ll wait. As you see, much of Fieri’s bro-appeal is a matter of flavor sauces, one piled upon another, as things are madly stuffed inside of other things and deep-fried. This “flavor sauce” thing has legs. It’s basically the whole Applebee’s menu. And now Publix is in the grips too – all the things that used to be called SALAD DRESSING are now called ANYTHING DRESSING. Because salad, that’s for ladies, right? And also, who wants to sell a product just for salad when you can slather it on your muffincandywafflemini-pancakeAxedeodorantinANARCHY™?
7. People don’t know how to cook.
Look, obviously you have no idea how to cook. Otherwise this would not appeal to you. That, or you just like to sample stuff in tiny plastic cups, in which case you are a) making penguins extinct, and b) stupid for not going to Costco, where there are way more and better plastic cups of crap you will never actually cook. Publix understands your flailing. They give you the recipe and then stick all the stuff in the same refrigerated case so that you don’t have to actually go around the store and collect the ingredients. You just follow the instructions on the card, eat the food, chew joylessly and head into the bathroom. Repeat. Die.
You know that song by Arcade Fire called “We Used To Wait?” No? Too impatient to look it up on YouTube? Perfect. These QuickCook Blackeye Peas are just the thing for you. We used to wait. Now, you steam peas in the bag with the other veggies in the freezer aisle and think yourself damn healthy as you sink into another season of Downton Abbey. Shovel peas into your mouth in ten minutes. Hell, why wait that long? Just rip open the cellophane and turn the peas into mouth mush without waiting the eternity that the package demands.
You should be ashamed of yourself for buying this. Deeply ashamed. And if you bought it for your child, even more so. Shake AND pour? Two steps? What is this? The Gulag?
8. The Reading Aisle
Literacy! You could do an entire entertaining blog for months and months tracking the contents of a grocery store’s reading material. The novels represent an even lower denominator than the airport bookstore. We’re open to being tarred as literary elitists — and sure, we do read the high-brow stuff. But the bleak quality of the grocery store book section is not just an antidote to populism, but is enough to make someone relish the oncoming post-literate age altogether. Skip this section entirely, download some mind-rotting apps onto your tablet computer, and move on.
The magazine section is also fun to examine for the narrow demographic nets being cast, along with the gloomy darkness of depression from which emerge the kind of lonely thoughts that would cause someone to seek something from these shelves. If only they’d make a single magazine about ineptly-rapping brides using guns and hot rods to decorate their country cottages, they could just reproduce the same thing every month. Now with recipes and crossword puzzles!
9. Heat and stir
Spam is gross. All canned meats are gross. Given the amount of food and water and space and energy needed to raise an animal and kill it, meat should be expensive. Meat should cost more than vegetables. Canned meat like Spam should not be in plastic trays to be put into microwaves. If a “Compleat” is what you are having for dinner tonight, well, maybe you’re doing the best you can and we shouldn’t judge you.
And an entire treatise could be written on how macaroni and cheese has morphed from a single food item into an entire line of products, with cheese in silver foil packets (in both powdered and goo form) being ingested by millions of people every year. Pasta is one of humanity’s great inventions, but retain some galaxy-sized awe for the immensity and sheer amount of shelf space devoted to this bewildering array of one narrow and processed vision of a noodle drenched in cheese (or cheese-like simulation).
10. That should not come in a can.
11. Positioned at handy child level!
Tooth rotting cereal meets tooth rotting cupcake in a bar. Lubricated by a few too many brand execs from General Mills (which owns both Better Crocker and the cereal brands featured here), the two go home together and make babies, which are boxed and sent to supermarkets around the world. Dentists rejoice.