From what I’ve observed, I’m not alone.
Finding pleasure in wandering the supermarket seems to be an unusually common emotional experience. Even in the age of online grocery shopping, where RedMart will send ten pints of ice cream to your door free of judgement, I’ve rarely, if ever, met a person who didn’t perk up at the mention of a trip to the supermarket. Exploring the supermarket in other countries is practically a tourist activity in and of itself, and a friend once even mentioned that a new colleague introduced herself by saying, “I like to go grocery shopping.”
To be clear, what I am talking about here is not Purposeful Supermarket Shopping, the kind where you enter with an actual shopping list of things you actually need, like instant coffee and toilet paper. Purposeful Supermarket Shopping is focused and transactional. You enter, get what you came for, and leave, like the most mercenary kind of speed dating. Purposeful Supermarket Shopping is done by people with better things to do.
Rather, I am talking about Spontaneous Non-Purposeful Supermarket Shopping, the kind that you need ample amounts of time and a high tolerance for time-wasting to excel at.
Spontaneous Non-Purposeful Supermarket Shoppers can be instantly identified by our lack of a shopping basket and our trademark method of exploration, which is to drift from aisle to aisle like stoned butterflies. We tend to travel alone, or in pairs. We are often young, because parents buying groceries for a family of five generally do not have 15 minutes to spend just looking at pasta.
Crucially, as the name suggests, it is an open-ended activity. You can leave a round of Spontaneous Non-Purposeful Supermarket Shopping with nothing, or with an armful of things you don’t remember picking up, and a whole lot of guilt.
Finally, Spontaneous Non-Purposeful Supermarket Shopping is almost always confined to the food aisles. Apparently, there just isn’t similar joy to be found in staring at fabric softener.
That being said, I do think the roots of this phenomenon run deeper than our national obsession with food. If they didn’t, we would be similarly devoted to browsing our wet markets, or the mazes of food stalls in shopping mall basements.
What, then, lies behind the gravitational pull of the supermarket?
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