Ten super inane questions

Ten questions inspired by an ordinary trip to the supermarket:

  • Why are bagels so much more expensive than bread?
  • Why is jam so much more expensive than jelly?
  • Every time I go shopping, I encounter at least one person (usually elderly, but not always) who stands gawping at shelves from the middle on an aisle, utterly oblivious to the fact that she’s blocking someone’s path. Do you ever wonder if you do this to people and never realize it because no one gives you grief about it?
  • When something is advertised as being “10 for $10.00,” do you reckon you’re getting one over on the store by only buying seven (four more than you’ll eat in the next year)?
  • Have you ever tried to figure out if jam sandwiches are less expensive than jelly on a bagel?
  • Have you ever hidden a rack of ribs way behind a bunch of cereal boxes just to see how long they would stay there?*
  • Do you have a particular item offering lots of varieties that you agonize over endlessly, every time? Mine is salad dressing. I stand gawping in the aisle, probably blocking some poor impatient bastard’s path without ever knowing it.
  • Have you ever wondered how much money you save by eating jelly sandwiches rather than spreading jam on a bagel?
  • Have you ever walked out of a store and realized that every single item you purchased was store-brand? This happened to me once at a Publix in Sunrise, Florida.
  • Have you ever caught yourself singing quietly along to an elevatorized (elevated?) version of an eighties song? If so, did you want to kill yourself in sheer horror when you caught yourself doing it?

*A college buddy of mine actually did this at a Price Chopper in Burlington, Vermont. Sure enough, the mass of rotting flesh remained there for over a week, well past the point where the stank was noticeable from the middle of the aisle.

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  1. #1 by Andy Rooney on December 8, 2008 - 3:05 pm

    I just knew that CBS would replace me with some Blogger.

  2. #2 by Nick on December 8, 2008 - 3:13 pm

    The “X number of items for Y dollars” thing is just a way to make you buy way more product than you could ever need. Unless it has been written off as a loss leader(like turkeys during Thanksgiving) the store is making money on every single unit sold.
    Also, bagels are denser than most loafs of bread. If you’re buying that $0.99 loaf of store brand white bread you’re getting more air than bread.

  3. #3 by Becca on December 8, 2008 - 3:16 pm

    1. Because bagels are tastier
    2. Because jam has more fruit; jelly fills in the spaces with extra corn syrup
    3. I never do this to people.
    4. No. I wonder who buys 10?
    5. No. Jam on a bagel is too delicious to sacrifice. I do wonder how many things I can use a bagel for other than jam vs. how many things I can use bread for other than jam though.
    6. No, though I’ve wanted to. Though I think it’s a much nicer idea to hide a cereal box behind a bunch of ribs.
    7. Probably ice cream. I had to make three trips back to grap the new one I had decided was the best last time I was in the store.
    8. Not precisely (see love of jam + bagel), but similar things.
    9. No. I might if I shopped at Trader Joe’s more though.
    10. OH Lord yes. *hangs head*

  4. #4 by Kevin Beck on December 8, 2008 - 3:28 pm

    “Also, bagels are denser than most loafs of bread. If you’re buying that $0.99 loaf of store brand white bread you’re getting more air than bread.”
    I hear you, Nick, but even after factoring that in there’s a tremendous difference. A 20-ounce loaf of white bread at Food Lion costs $1.27. The cheapest six-pack of bagels–also weighing in at, or damned close to, 20 ounces–is $3.49.
    In truth, I think it’s the more involved preparation of bagels (don’t they have to be boiled or something?) that’s responsible. But I would much rather make sandwiches out of bagels, even though I know a gob of condiment is going to slip through the frigging hole in the middle and land in my lap whenever I take a bite.

  5. #5 by Warren on December 8, 2008 - 4:51 pm

    well past the point where the stank was noticeable from the middle of the aisle
    Which elegantly explains why the old person is standing there, stunned, in the middle of the aisle…

  6. #6 by Julie on December 8, 2008 - 5:44 pm

    You are a total hoot, Kevin.
    May I recommend the novel “White Noise” by Don Delillo? I suspect it would appeal to your sensibility. Plus it features a scene where the main character runs into a friend at the grocery store; the friend’s entire cart is full of generic items, one of which is a jar labeled “Irregular Peanuts.”
    What I’ve always wondered is why the store branded items are all given ridiculous names (my store’s off-brand Grape Nuts, for example, are called “Nutty Nuggets”). I guess it’s not humbling enough that we’re buying the cheap brand in the first place.
    My store plays the original versions of 80s hits, which I guess makes me lucky (since humming along is not nearly as embarassing). In fact, someone clever sneaks in some interesting selections every now and then: I was shopping once and caught The Divinyls’ “I Touch Myself” wafting through the aisles.

  7. #7 by JimFiore on December 8, 2008 - 5:50 pm

    I think the bagels vs. white bread thing is completely due to the fact that bagels are seen as ethnic, cool, and upscale. With modern manufacturing methods (and the large scale production of food products really is closer to manufacturing than cooking/baking these days) I can’t imagine that it really costs all that much more to make bagels than loaves of bread.
    But compare that loaf of white bread to a similarly weighted loaf of “French Peasant Bread” or “Tuscan Loaf” over at the “bake shop” corner of the store and suddenly the bagels don’t seem so expensive. See, it costs money to be snooty.
    Me, every Saturday I go down to one of the local Italian bakeries in town (there are several) and get a loaf of whole wheat Italian bread and a couple of whole wheat pizza shells. Costs me $4 total.

  8. #8 by Kevin Beck on December 8, 2008 - 5:53 pm

    I have sensibility? Sounds Vonnegutian–I’ll look into it.
    “What I’ve always wondered is why the store branded items are all given ridiculous names…”
    Oh, another great subject in itself! Sometimes the chain has no choice because otherwise customers wouldn’t know what they were buying. A great example: spin-offs of Dr. Pepper. These all have medical-field names of some sort, just to set them apart in a proper and distinctive way. My favorite all-time supermarket, Kroger, has “Dr. Thunder.” Right now my fridge has a Food Lion version of Diet Mountain Dew in it–“Diet Mountain Lion” (they really, fortuitously struck gold with that one!). For some reason, Kroger’s is “Big K,” which I like having around because that would be my nickname if I gained about 100 pounds.
    I’m going to keep my eye out for even better examples. Never did I expect this blog to enrich my food-shopping experience! Do I have a life? NO! But who gives a shit!!

  9. #9 by Amy P. on December 8, 2008 - 7:01 pm

    Jim,
    In my neighborhood, it is tres trendy to buy from the “local Italian bakeries” (of which there are about 267 of them) so no savings there either.
    I need a bread machine.

  10. #10 by Rev. BigDumbChimp on December 8, 2008 - 7:56 pm

    In truth, I think it’s the more involved preparation of bagels (don’t they have to be boiled or something?) that’s responsible.

    Yeah there is a fair amount more that goes into a bagel vs. 2 slices of bread. Boiling is part of that.

  11. #11 by John McKay on December 8, 2008 - 11:03 pm

    I never sing along to eighties songs. But when the muzakized Steely Dan starts wafting, there’s no holding me back.
    Have you ever tried to buy a pear that you could eat that day? All the pears in the local stores are rock hard and only edible if you set them on the top of your refrigerator and leave them there for a week minimum.

  12. #12 by Ian on December 9, 2008 - 9:36 am

    I’ll bet you donuts to dollops that it costs a lot to take the sugar out of the donuts and turn them into bagels, whereas with bread, they leave the sugar in. Bread with no sugar is called cardboard, and that’s used to package the goods.

  13. #13 by Kevin Beck on December 9, 2008 - 2:04 pm

    “I once unthinkingly sang along to an elevatored version of “Like A Virgin.” I think I was in the produce aisle at the time.”
    As long as you weren’t writhing on the floor.
    You might like this: 1, 2, 3
    http://scienceblogs.com/bushwells/2007/05/seven_items_or_less_iii_and_fi.php

  14. #14 by chancelikely on December 10, 2008 - 2:22 pm

    As a former cashier at a supermarket, the rack of ribs story brings back memories.
    I should preface this by saying that there seems to be an idea, subscribed to by a large proportion of the grocery-buying public, that if you get all the way up to the cashier, you must buy everything in your cart at the time. (This isn’t true; we even have a spot under the counter to keep all the unwanted stuff until someone can get around to collecting it for restocking.) So there’s a mad scramble, mostly hidden from the cashier, to jettison all the things that you thought you’d want in the store, but now that it comes to actually buying it, you’ve changed your mind. So we constantly find items from all over the store left in the checklane displays. Ice cream. Women’s sweaters. EasyMac. And, once, someone got rid of a rack of ribs by dropping it in the seam between the candy display and the Pepsi fridge. Judging by the expiration date, it had been there for about ten days.
    Now, working in any place that involves the public means that you are going to occasionally be exposed to pungent smells. There was one regular shopper who smelled so bad that I would always try to finish his order in one breath. So we only discovered the ribs late one night when there was no customer close enough that they could conceivably have been the source of the smell.
    (My hypothesis as to why the ribs lasted in your Price Chopper for so long: maybe the night stocker smelled as bad as the ribs.)

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