There comes a time in everyone’s life when they have to stand up and face certain unpleasant realities. A time when ideals clash with experience, and tough decisions about the future must be confronted. For some people, this might mean a divorce, a career change, or a move across the country. For us, it was the giant leap of signing up for a Costco membership.
Having spent the last few years trying to rein in both our grocery spending and our food-mile radius while at the same time focusing our consumer activity on smaller, locally-owned merchants, this decision was not easy. But…those…children… The three boys, at 11, 14, and 16 years of age respectively, had started doing what teenage boys are wont to do: eating their parents out of house and home. Milk by the gallon; meat by the pound; bread, cereal, and most any other starch; yogurt; oatmeal; you name it, they ate it. Between the quantities we needed to have on hand and the frequency of our trips, we had little choice in the matter.
Naturally, when we were in Pullman, the nearest Costco was a good half-hour’s drive south, so getting sufficient quantity to make the trip worthwhile was paramount. We’d carefully make our list, plan a few other stops nearby for efficiency’s sake, and…
WOW! The SIZE of the place! The sheer, mind-numbing MAGNITUDE of it! and so…many…people! All BUYING LOTS OF STUFF! Multiplied by how many stores, how many shoppers, how many hours per day…I was getting dizzy. So, post-shopping, we bought a pizza. Because they have ready-to-eat food there. And…it’s delicious. Choice of toppings is limited to either pepperoni or a combination of sausage, mushroom, peppers, and olives; but: they are made to order, span 18 inches from crust to crust, and cost all of $10. Yes, ten little ducats for a pizza that the five of us can barely finish. It nearly makes up for the stress of being there.
All the same, I do not regret crossing over to The Large Side. Trying to stretch a monthly grocery budget of just under $500 to cover five people is a challenge that requires we work every angle we can. At Costco, we can employ the same “economy of scale” strategy that the company itself uses. Buying more at a time also means fewer trips overall, saving on fuel use and expense. We also have two Costcos nearby, the nearest being maybe 15 minutes away. This gives us some flexibility in where else we may want or need to go that day.
In exchange, we have to trade off a few things. First of all, we have surely given up a few miles on our “consumption radius,” although we do check to make sure we’re not buying fresh produce from South America. No grapes with frequent flyer miles, please. Secondly, buying in bulk has storage and planning requirements that not every household can fulfill: a separate freezer, big pantry shelves, time and space to portion and prepare, and oh yes…some sort of plan. I should be better at that part, what with all my restaurant experience, yet lately it has eluded me. I’ll have to look into that.
There is something else we lose when we shop there; something maybe less tangible, but no less real, as we walk around the vast, chilly, concrete warehouse, buying cases of this and big bags of that; looking at the towers and plies of all sorts of products; seeing the other shoppers there, and hoping we don’t resemble them. Perhaps I’m getting a glimpse of the vast scope and scale of the Industrial Food Complex. Maybe it’s that the shopping carts are the size of utility trailers. It’s hard to put into words, but it’s a feeling that we are more Consumers than People, and I need more than a slice of pizza to take that chill out of my soul.