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Opinion

Only the strong can survive the perils of the grocery store deli counter

It’s a chore for many families each week. Going to the grocery store can be viewed in many different ways.

It’s a triumph of the modern age, a task of such ease our hunter-gatherer ancestors probably would die from the shock, rather than from small infections that actually took them. Food from all over the world flows to a single spot in most neighborhoods or towns above a certain population, just to pick off the shelf and rarely is a saber-toothed tiger on the other side of the cereal aisle ready to pounce on you when you grab your Apple Jacks.

All of the staples are in easy reach, and there are so many things we don’t need that it’s become a public health crisis across the industrialized world as we have more food than we know what to do with. It truly is a triumph of the Industrial Age.

I hate it. I hate every minute of the chore to the point where I would rather hunt a mastodon through the frozen tundra than go to the grocery store on a Saturday.

It’s not the store’s fault – by and large, my experience in the probably hundreds of supermarkets I’ve frequented in my itinerant life has found them to be clean and the staff friendly and they always have milk.

It’s just – everything else.

For example: why isn’t the store in alphabetical order? We’ve have the alphabet since the Phoenicians, yet it can’t make it through those automatic sliding doors so that Cocoa Puffs and Cookie Crisp are next to each other on the shelf? Perhaps there is another logic at work that I’ve not learned, but I can never find what I need. A five-minute decision becomes 15 minutes.

My suggestion: Alphabetize the whole thing. There’s no reason we can’t have onions next to Oreos or bananas next to bandages. I can’t even calculate the amount of time this would save people shopping, let alone national productivity.

Another gripe, not necessarily the cause of the grocery store but something they could fix. Other shoppers. To paraphrase Jean-Paul Sartre, other shoppers are the problem. I’m aware we live in a civilization, which is good, and the byproduct of that is that you’re usually surrounded by other people trying to occupy or use the communal space. But, maybe if we made the grocery stores bigger, we could avoid some of the issues.

I don’t mean like those warehouse stores – they’re big but they just fill them up with more stuff, so there isn’t space. I mean wider lanes between the shelves. At least enough to fit two carts and a couple of people through. Fifteen feet should do it. That could kill two birds with one stone because I’ve also lamented the fact that I can’t get up to speed with my cart in any respectable amount of time.

Going through the grocery store and making engine noises just looks ridiculous when you’re going the same pace as everyone else.

By far the most terrifying part of the store, however, is the deli counter. A long, plastic display case of curios that haven’t been seen anywhere else since 19th-century traveling circuses. Abominations that include olives in loaves, pickled fish and chicken embryos and concoctions of cucumber and mayonnaise, given the title “salad.”

Each dish is farther and farther from God’s light. I won’t judge the food too much – I’m a man who has eaten jellyfish before – but the atmosphere around a deli counter on a Saturday afternoon only can be compared to those post-apocalyptic “Mad Max” films. Men and women wearing leather outfits and cages over their heads, fighting over tickets and arguing for the last slice of pimento cheese.

There are no solutions for this scenario. It serves as a reminder to us that, for all of our progress in technology, medicine and the arts, were still are only one tray of ham salad away from the chaos our ancestors had to find their way through.

After all of that, with screaming adults and the children scolding them on the peripheries of it all, the checkout line once again is a safe haven of sanity. It’s transnational, civilized: I give you my money and you don’t tackle me as I walk out the door with my cart of food. Then I can go home and rest for a week, before I have to brave it all again.

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