Trader Joe's (a rant)
Have any of you shopped at Trader Joe’s? Is anyone excited about them opening on 14th Street, just a block away from Whole Foods? People keep telling me how much they love this store, and I always tell them that I’ve only been in one, in Boston, and that I didn’t like it at all. I also say, though, that I didn’t have a chance to explore, and that I will give it a chance when it opens here. But when I read quotes like the following one in this New York Times article, my budding enthusiasm disappears:
Trader Joe’s has also guided its customers into the world of prepared food and precut vegetables… “Trader Joe’s customers are people who really care about cooking,” he said, “but like everyone else in America, they don’t feel like they have time to chop all the vegetables, cook the chicken and make the dessert — but they want to be in the kitchen.” The stores stock lots of things like precut butternut squash and beets, “simmer sauces” that make quick stews, and marinated salmon fillets packaged with fresh herbs in oven-ready cooking bags. “We are very careful about marinades,” Mr. Sloan said solemnly. “Dill can be very polarizing.”
About 40 percent of salad greens in American supermarkets are sold already separated, washed and bagged. At Trader Joe’s, the proportion is close to 100 percent.
“Who buys head lettuce anymore?” Ms. Latta said, surveying a produce case stuffed with bags of organic baby arugula, herb salad and sugar snap peas at the original Trader Joe’s, on Arroyo Parkway in Pasadena. There was not a vegetable in sight that was not packed in plastic.
I don’t have the knowledge, time, or inclination to be a food snob, but I simply cannot relate to this mentality. Nathan alerted me to an article last week in Slate about the chain restaurant Chipotle. In the article, Daniel Gross mentions that more and more Americans are eating out because the cost differential between eating in a restaurant and going grocery shopping has gotten so small. The reason for that shrinkage is fancy grocery stores, and a complete lack of responsibility on the part of the consumer.
It’s one thing to buy a bag of spinach, which can save you an hour of rinsing if you happen upon a particularly filthy bunch. But to buy pre-peeled and cut garlic, carrots, and celery is totally ridiculous and wasteful. I don’t care how organic and free of pesticides your chopped veggies are—the bag you bought them in is an affront to the organic movement, and these stores should be ashamed to carry such products.
This post is scattered, but my point is this: It’s totally possible to spend far less to eat in than you would spend to go out or to buy every piece of produce safely packaged in a bag. Salad spinners and vegetable peelers were invented for a reason. It takes about three minutes to peel, chop, and seed an entire butternut squash, and it will yield three times as much product that is fresher, more delicious, and much less wasteful than a shrink-wrapped packet of squash pieces. It takes less than a minute to peel and chop a carrot, and it takes about five seconds to press a garlic clove, peel and all, through a garlic press. (Chinatown garlic is an exception, as it is cheaper than water.)
It’s none of my business how people spend their money, but I can’t help but think that money spent on peeled veggies could be better spent on a bottle of wine, a dry-aged steak, or a bottle of white truffle oil. Celery and salad greens are supposed to be cheap. I can’t believe how willing we have become to make them and every other piece of produce expensive.