Super De Duper: American Supermarkets

While some seek out museums, galleries and other attractions, I seek out supermarkets. Few things tell you more about a society than their shopping habits, and America has the brashest, most excessive shopping habits of them all.

WalMart is the king of the American supermarkets. From here I bought some Reese’s cups for work. It was a “convenience” Walmart, which was still as big as most regular-sized Sainsbury’s in the UK. The full-size one that I visited in Florida was like a small town in itself. The consensus was that people don’t really shop in Walmart in Chicago.

I had never heard of Jewel-Osco prior to my visit, but this was the closest to Norah’s apartment, and on my wanders appeared to be Chicago’s most popular brand. It is a step below Whole Foods (thankfully) in price and maybe in quality. There was still plentiful food for the health-conscious. And the not-health conscious. Supermarkets are packed to the rafters with food. From store to store Jewel-Osco had the biggest disparity in choice and “store experience”, with the one by Berwyn opening on a wonderfully large produce section, while the one on Broadway (or maybe it was the other way around) having the feel of a pharmacy queue, although with a very nice cashier who thought I was Australian. I shopped well in Jewel-Osco:


Norah is a more well-rounded person than I:


Whole Foods is utterly ridiculous, but there is one off Piccadilly Circus which I have visited several times since my return because I miss America and love samples. Yes, Whole Foods is the sample king. Their guacamole may be ravishing, but at $10 a pot it will ravage your income. People buy their clothes from Whole Foods. “My baby will only wear wholesome, ethically sourced, locally mined fabrics” I’m sure some people say. The Whole Foods by iO is apparently one of the biggest in America. It is a behemoth. They had vodka samples. Irresponsible.

A big old heirloom tomato. Couldn't quite kill a bitch

A big old heirloom tomato. Couldn’t quite kill a bitch. iO Whole Foods

Chocolate to kill a bitch in Evanston's Whole Foods

Chocolate to kill a bitch in Evanston’s Whole Foods

In Evanston there is a stretch of Road that has Whole Foods, Jewel-Osco and Trader Joe’s all vying for a customer’s attention. However do they choose?
Maybe it is because I was convinced by our Boston hosts (one works there), but Trader Joe’s is my favourite of the American supermarkets. The selection may be slightly smaller (this is because most items come in Trader Joe’s brand only) but the price point is good (change from $5 for a massive bag of apples and a massive bag of satsumas) and they have a good mantra. Plus a free newspaper that is actually just flowery-prose advertising their recommended products for the month. Just like the 18th century. Unfortunately I couldn’t find Hans’ coveted cookie butter. Why does anyone shop at Whole Foods when Trader Joe’s is in business?

Mariano’s was the final of the supermarkets that I was told to try. A jazz band played as we entered. Michael had to make do with one bunch of green and one bunch of white asparagus as the denizens of Andersonville had ravaged their supply. The produce section was vast and difficult to navigate. Thankfully for the rest of the shop there was a handy map which you could take around with you. The fanciest of the supermarkets, though still competitively priced.

Americans love their choice. Americans love their sugar. Americans love peanut butter. Oh, how I long to be an American.

Supermarkets have come a long way. 8 out of 10 are pleasant places to shop, and I spent at least two of my afternoons wandering the aisles of Chicago’s supermarkets. (Indeed, I am currently in Porto and spent a good half hour today exploring Continente today) England is slow to catch up, but Waitrose is getting it, and the independents (and now Whole Foods) are giving customers a more enjoyable experience that the big guns can’t ignore. The Middle Classes Rise Again.


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