So, it's finally come to this. Not the end of the world, granted, and no big deal. It's just that like anyone else, I'm accustomed to doing things in a certain way. We get in a rut, sometimes, I know. The thing is, I detest large supermarkets. All the more because they market items that are durable, things that have no business being in a market specializing in edibles. I always hated those aisles of clothing, kitchenware, electronics, even cosmetics. When I go shopping for food, it's food I want to see.
And then there was the thing that this was a small independent grocer, as it were. A franchise operation. I thought the big corporations didn't need my food dollar. So when that Food Basics store opened almost twenty years ago, I began patronizing it. The sound of it was in line with the way I thought; basic foods. It was a relatively small operation, the building was really too small and the result was cramped aisles, which was certainly no plus.
But there was far less of an emphasis on convenience and pre-packaged foods, and more on - what else? - the basics I wanted. And the prices were really competitive. I liked the cashiers; older women whom I quickly became familiar with. They had good specials, and if I began to think they weren't paying adequate attention to procuring really fresh fruits and vegetables, I just had to look harder to ensure I bypassed those.
I had my nose a little out of joint at first when I asked the manager if he would consider putting a bin somewhere out front in the store where shoppers could deposit foodstuffs for the local food bank and he rebuffed the idea. No room, he said, and anyway, it was too 'political'. He did find room for non-edible products eventually. I did like that they charged for plastic bags and bought three of their large plastic bins that have served me well over the years.
I hated it when they seemed to forget to re-stock the shelves properly, someone in charge not ordering replacements in time. Or stopped carrying an item I particularly liked. Or didn't give adequate attention to 'best before' dates. I'd bring these irritations to their attention. It helped for a while, and then it would start all over again. I rationalized that the price was right, and as long as I exercised care I'd get the freshness we needed.
Several years ago the franchisee who had, in the interim, proven that the business hadn't disappointed his expectations by driving a 75-series BMW, sold out. Mostly because he hadn't much choice; it had gone from a franchise operation to a corporate-led one. Under this new management a lot of interior renovation was undertaken and shelving changed, and miraculously the aisles widened through better-designed use of existing space.
Things improved noticeably. I no longer saw the store trying to sneak non-food products onto the shelves as the old owner-manager had been doing. Fruits and vegetables were in far better condition. And there was a marked increase in convenience and pre-cooked and pre-prepared foods. More choice in the meat counter. And the fruit juices and yogurts. And then the quality of the fresh foods began to deteriorate.
On again, off again; they'd be in good shape, then dismal. Not everything, but disparate and discrete fresh items and various products, and I figured I could deal with that. Then last week everything changed. I had of late been having to discard bagged baby carrots, despite a long best-before date. Poor handling, I guessed. Milk, despite a similar best-before date wasn't keeping.
There was a special last week on soft berries. I looked carefully through the plastic to evaluate freshness, and found the raspberries stuck together with mould, the strawberries similar, and the blackberries as well. Bought none of them. Cherries too were on sale and those I carefully selected, but they were disgustingly bad, we discovered later. The hard little red seedless grapes were terrific, but that's some bad score, isn't it?
The red bell peppers were so awful I just had to bypass them. The green beans were stringy and dessicated. The snow peas and the snap sugar peas were imported from China, although the signage above them boasted they were 'product of Guatemala'. There were none of the Campari tomatoes to be had, only those tasteless ones that I bought instead. The grape tomatoes were in such bad shape I had to discard one-third of the box.
The fresh red grapefruit juice I always bought was not available. They were out of Biobest yogurt, unflavoured with live bacillus. Well, bloody hell. I could have spoken with the manager, and had on previous occasions, never having felt that I was being taken seriously. The kind of unprocessed fish that I prefer to buy is usually unavailable, all these little irritations were exasperatingly unnecessary.
I decided to write an email to the provincial head office detailing all the miserable offerings on hand at last week's shopping. Next morning there was a telephone call from the store manager to whom the email had been forwarded. Not their fault, he said, they changed warehouses and this was the result. Their fresh produce suppliers were unreliable. Not the consumer's problem, I told him. He wanted to know when I was in the store and I told him the time.
He would, he said, speak to the person on duty. Not the fault of the personnel, I retorted, they're exemplary staff. Not so, he responded, otherwise they would be picking the rotted food off the shelves. I restrained myself from outright braying in his ear. What alternative do they have when the entire shipment is anything but fresh, but to put it all out, given the specials advertised? And I'd rarely seen the overworked staff picking out rotted fruit.
He urged me, next time I discover things amiss, to go directly to him. Right. Well, there won't be a next time. My husband chafes at having produce from China put on our plates. He's disgusted with all the produce we had to discard because of inedibility. When he saw me washing the blueberries preparatory to baking a pie, he peered more closely than I did and saw plenty to be discarded.
Remarkably, he offered to accompany me shopping at his favourite supermarket, the one he occasionally shops at, on his own. The first time in years we've done the food shopping together. It was amazing, the quality of the fresh fruits and vegetables on offer. I almost shouted for joy. We make a great team, shopping together or anything else we do together. He hated going into the Food Basics store, and never accompanied me there.
The times they are a-changing...
Labels: Family, Personally Dedicated