Grocery shopping has always been one of those adulthood tasks that I’ve actively dreaded. While I long ago mastered making my bed daily and paying my credit card in full and on time, I can rationalize avoiding the weekly grocery trip for days, until days turn into weeks and I tell myself, “Well, it’s almost the weekend, no sense in doing a full load now.” It also doesn’t help that when I do skip shopping, food is just a few clicks away on Seamless or GrubHub.
Part of why I hate grocery shopping is the geography; living in Manhattan can make a Monday grocery run feel like you’re at the last Trader Joe’s in existence before a once in a generation Sharknado event. Even before I moved to NYC, I have long hated this weekly trip. I’ve tried all sorts of alternatives, from boxed meal services to online grocery delivery, but none have been able to cure me from reverting to take-out.
Recently, another option occurred to me. If I couldn’t handle shopping at night, what if I switched over to mornings? That way, my least favorite part of grocery shopping, the crowds, would go away and I’d still have the flexibility to get what I need, when I want it, instead of relying on the advanced planning or restrictive options that come with meal services and online delivery.
One problem: I am not a morning person. I don’t know if it’s possible to overstate this issue, so it bears repeating. I am not a morning person. The idea of forcing myself to rise early to run errands before work is not only undesirable, it's offensive to my love of sleep. My morning usually is restricted to hitting snooze the alarm clock a bunch, then rushing out the door in the little time I’ve left myself.
Despite my aversion to life before noon, I did manage to find myself, a coffee gripped firmly in my hand, at my neighborhood Whole Foods on a Monday morning in early August. Much to my surprise, there were other people there. These productive morning people were walking about with purpose, as normal as if it were any other time of day. Perhaps not surprisingly to those with children, as a fair number these early risers had babies in strollers along on their shopping errand, already adjusted to the hours parents keep.
I was able to navigate the aisles with ease, without jockeying strangers for the last bunch of kale that remains late on a Monday evening. Checking out was also effortless. I had completed my least-favorite chore, and the clock hadn’t even stuck 8 a.m.
Then I got all the groceries home and realized I had under an hour to unpack everything, pack lunch, and clean up before leaving the house. I got as far as reorganizing the fridge to get everything to fit before had to run out the door. That day's lunch remained unpacked.
After that mishap, I realized I would need to plan on buying a frozen or ready-to-go lunch if I shop early, and that getting everything unpacked was about the best for which I could hope. It also meant that I was leaving any meal prep for Monday night, a time of the week when I just want to curl up with Netflix.
By the end of the month, I had resorted to a hybrid solution. I was grabbing four frozen meals and the bare bones for an easy weeknight dinner of eggs, avocado, and toast and calling it a day. While there are some benefits to shopping in the morning, I wasn’t suddenly enjoying the task.
No amount of soul-searching has explained why I hadn’t finally found the cure. Then, a line from a book I was reading summed it up in a way I could understand. Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible is a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, but a tiny vignette about grocery shopping is what I weirdly remember best from it. Describing a character who hated the chore as much as I do, the narrator says, “looking at all the food in the aisles, thinking of the meals she’d need to fix, day after day and year after year, filled her with despair.”
I felt a surge of recognition: yup, that's me. The limitless possibility of the grocery store is also a reminder that, every day, for the rest of my life, I’ll have to figure out what, how, and where to eat. And, despite my best efforts, I am still not a morning person.
For September, I’m mostly back to shopping at night and still way too active on Seamless. But now that I’ve seen the quiet serenity of a grocery store in the pre-9-to-5 hours, I still occasionally squeeze in a trip then — always with coffee.