A Midwesterner’s Take on Grocery Shopping in NYC

If you’re reading this and you don’t happen to reside in New York (or any other metropolitan area where it doesn’t make sense to own a car), consider yourself lucky if for no other reason than you most likely own a car and can run errands with it. Specifically, you can transport yourself to the grocery store/supermarket/”food store,” be it a Super Target, Super Wal-Mart, CostCo, Sam’s Club and the like.

I try to keep whining to a minimum but when it comes to grocery shopping without a car, it gets pretty bad. It goes something like this: I run out of food little by little. Pretty soon, I’m getting creative with the few staples I have left in the house: “I know! I’ll make rice with butter for dinner!” or “Cereal with half ‘n half is fine.” Finally, it comes down to making something with eggs, eating peanut butter out of the jar and resorting to actually eating the oatmeal I bought months ago. Then I’m really out of everything.

Enter the whining. I have no food, I’m starving and I have needed to go to the store for weeks. My inner adult self wars with the three year-old in there having a tantrum, pounding her fists on the floor: “But I don’t wanna go to the store! I hate it! I hate it! Don’t make me! Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.” I told you it wasn’t pretty. (I recently performed such antics when I was forced to cook the chicken I had needed to make all week. I told my boyfriend to MAKE me prepare the chicken but it was no easy feat on his part, bless his heart. Oh and I literally stamped my foot on the floor about not wanting to do it, too. See what he has to put up with?)

Interestingly enough, I never minded going to the store when I lived in St. Louis and when I was in college. But I had a car. (Sniffle – God, I miss having a car.) It never even crossed my mind to despise doing it. The car was right there. You just get in and go. When those of us with on-campus jobs got paid, we trundled off to Wegman’s to stock up on stuff we’d need that wasn’t overpriced from the campus Corner Store or made from dehydrated food packets in the cafeteria. (Don’t EVEN get me started on Aramark.)

I’ll go so far as to say that I enjoyed grocery shopping when I went with a friend or my then boyfriend. Helen loved going to the store with me, just to gab while I was throwing stuff in the cart. The boyfriend in question hated grocery shopping with me, but that is because we would argue over the quality of paper towels and toilet paper we were buying (ladies, you feel me – it’s all about the high quality stuff). I never thought that a regular outing such as that would become one of the biggest major thorns in my side down the line.

And so. Living in New York, there are tons of shops from which to buy all manner of things, from the extravagently gourmet to the ridiculously cheap. (And  I am a huge proponent of  the adage “You get what you pay for.” Hmmm, possible post down the line formulating…) It sounds fun in your head if you don’t live here.

Maybe you picture a gorgeous, sunny day going from store to store and selecting your specialty meats from your butcher who knows you by face or name;  stocking up at the fromagerie for a tart piece of Chèvre, gruyere or smoked gouda; grabbing all your canned and jarred goods (green olives? hello) at the regular corner store or bodega even; moving on to the local produce stand or farmer’s market for produce and daily specials; getting to the checkout counter where the man or woman is only too thrilled to send you on your way with your purchases. Then you happily carry it all home like you’re Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman after you get to go on a shopping spree in Beverly Hills with Richard Gere’s credit card.


WRONG. This is a fallacy of the grandest design. It is a pain in the freaking ass to go to more than one place and if you are unfortunate enough to only live close by to a poorly stocked grocery store where even finding something as simple as powdered sugar just ain’t happening, your options are extremely limited.

You can make the attempt to go to all the local places and find out that it’s exorbitantly overpriced, and/or that the employees don’t understand exactly what you’re looking for, and/or that these places don’t carry “quality” items (read: a filthy cat is walking around the deli behind the counter – I have seen it with my own eyes!) and/or that it’s raining and/or that this shit gets heavy after awhile and/or that you don’t own your own cart with which to schlep all this stuff home (much less up your third, fourth or fifth floor walk-up apartment building), and/or that the fantastic store you are fortunate enough to live by draws every other New Yorker to it and you are competing with a mob of other people in narrow, cramped aisles for all the same stuff like a meteor is going to hit and you all are stocking up to go hide in your bomb shelters.

Am I painting enough of a picture here? Do I come off as slightly cynical and fatigued? It’s because I am. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait my entire four years of living here to benefit from the genius of one particular company who has saved me from overspending on living à la carte. If you know what lunch costs on a daily basis working in Midtown, you know that you can easily spend anywhere from $50-$100 per week on lunch alone. For Chrissakes, Goodburger charges $16 for a “value meal” of a hamburger, fries and a milkshake.  I don’t mean to shamelessly namedrop but that place makes great burgers, fries and shakes. (I’ll write a post after I finally try Shake Shack.) But I don’t want to not make rent by eating there on a regular basis.

The online company Fresh Direct came along to save me from my grocery woes. Both a supermarket and a catering company, it has everything a person could ever want to buy right from the comfort of your own home or office (or on vacation – wherever!). They carry organic fare and their ready-to-eat and bakery items are out of this world. Here’s the best part. Your groceries are delivered (on the day and within a time slot of your choosing) in a referigerated truck where burly men come in carrying the boxes full of goodies and if you happen to live in a fifth floor walk-up or have a cat and you’ve just ordered two 14-lb boxes of cat litter, they do all the lifting and huffing and puffing. Voilà! It couldn’t be any simpler.

When one is deprived of the magic of having a car with a TRUNK, four wheels and an engine to get you to and from the grocery store, this place is a lifesaver. I know I personally breathe a sigh of relief whenever I’ve hit the Checkout button.

An actual image from Fresh Direct with a cuke in the cart.

An actual image from Fresh Direct with a cuke in the cart.

Besides the convenience factor, I have been able to order some really great food items and meals because I don’t have to ask myself the question, “Can I get this home? Am I going to be found laying on the side of the road, groceries strewn everywhere around me, because everything has broken out of their respective bags? Is this too ambitious?” I mean, seriously. Furthermore, there is no getting stuck behind the elderly couple who is paying for their groceries either by check or by 92,837,492,038,743 nickels, dimes and pennies. Nor do you have to get behind the coupon lady (it is NOT pronounced “kewpon”!)who needs to save twenty-five cents on six cans of tomato soup. No muss, no fuss. Just “set it and forget it!”

I know it seems kind of surreal to think about groceries being delivered right to one’s home but it is such an incredible tradeoff when one has to compromise one’s standards of living; because let’s face it, the majority of people who move here compromise their standards of living. I am stating officially for the record that the living experience here resembles nothing whatsoever like that of Sex and the City.

All of this having been said, do I still bitch about grocery shopping? Yes, yes I do. It’s such a chore. Granted, it’s not as bad as laundry or washing a huge sink full of dishes. But certain individuals who shall remain nameless have had to browbeat me into completing this bi-weekly duty, lest I go broke and/or I am found wasting away eating corn starch out of the box because the pantry is empty.

Still, I know that one day I will return to my suburban roots (Schnucks/Dierberg’s/Wegman’s for the win!) and I, too, also, along with the majority of the U.S. population, will once again have the sheer joy and privilege flowing through my veins of getting into an automobile, blasting music, parking the grocery-carrier in a parking spot (with its bigass trunk!) and loading up my Sam’s Club elephant-sized cart with items like a drum of pickles and a 40-pack of toilet paper and think, “Welcome home, Zoe.”