Are you a smart shopper?

Are you a smart shopper?

Since I moved to Jo’burg, I am asked this question every time I get to the till of South Africa’s favourite supermarket. As I am a card holder of Pick’n Pay’s membership programme, I immediately answer proudly “Yes I am!” And the next second I reconsider anxiously, wondering about the question raised: How smart IS my shopping? With the choices displayed and buzz around nutritional and environmental facts, the act of buying food for one’s family has become a challenge in itself.

For those who have enough money to actually buy food (hopefully more than a small share of the population, and a growing one), shopping today means choosing. Bananas: do you want them organic or you don’t care about the pesticides? Do you want them by the 1kg bag or individually, do you want the premium ones or the cheaper ones, and you still haven’t looked where they come from (perhaps another continent). I don’t know how smart my choice was, but answering all these questions was already mobilizing a great deal of my senses, my responsibility and commitment! I passed! Chicken aisle: that’s easy, I want it free range. Whole or cut up in pieces, a frozen one will last longer, or maybe the fresh one comes from the rotisserie. Each choice has its pros and cons, I make a list in my mind. And then I reflect on the life of a chicken: packed during its time alive, packed in the fridge. Do I really want to eat a dead bird? For each product that goes in the trolley, I ask myself, where does it come from, how did it grow, how much was it refined or transformed, by whom?

In the crisps aisle, I blink in amazement at the range of varieties. My eyes scan the layers of colourful products in search of something familiar. I knew the British “salt and vinegar” variety, (as a French girl, I enjoy making fun of it) or the “sour cream and onions” along the same lines. At least, these have become familiar, and I know how to avoid them. But what is this “Cream cheese and Jalapeno” or “Creamy peppered fillet” potato chips? When did that become a flavour? I grew up in a world where flavours ranged from chocolate to strawberry, with vanilla in between. When I had to choose between the three for an ice-cream, I generally picked what my older sister picked (chocolate), because I was afraid she would call me a “woos” if I chose what I really wanted (strawberry). I can’t give more rational explanations about why she would call me a name because I preferred strawberry, but you can see how smart my choice was!
Facing the army of crisps, I get sucked into this puzzle: what in the world does a Creamy peppered fillet chip taste like? Will it BE better that my regular salted chips? In an attempt to find the solution out of the box, I look from left to right, and try to categorize the endless display in terms of taste, crispiness, and oiliness…
Surely, my 30 minute walk around the supermarket and 10 minute drive back and forth are less tiring physically than what my grandmother had to go through to feed her children, but mentally, they are nerve-wracking. What important decision am I able to make now? I’ve got a business to run, children to raise, people to care for, more important decisions to make than selecting a pack of chips. Exhausted, I throw in the towel: I don’t want to be that smart!  Next time I’ll use an app to sort the choices (online shopping has worked for me in the past). I grab the first pack on my way and leave.

When I reach home with the groceries, I sigh in relief, happy to escape from the futile world of real-fake marketing innovations. Longing to come back to true values. That’s when my family turns to me, with my next favourite question:
What are we eating tonight?

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