You’re freaking out about the title. That’s okay. This post isn’t what you wanted to see today. Let’s walk through it together.
A little over a year ago, I moved into a building up the street from a Trader Joe’s. I’d never really shopped at one before but had often overheard the brand’s disciples proselytizing from atop Mt. Water Cooler. Thusly I was excited about all the tasty shit I would soon be munching. That week, I consulted some fanatical friends for best TJ shopping practices.
As it turns out, you can’t really go wrong. Their snacky stuff is across the board legit. Their goat cheese and sun-dried tomato ravioli gives your tongue an erection, which makes it hard to swallow. When they put out their seasonal star cookies with the little balls of sugar on them, you must kill anyone standing between you and the display.
But the best part about the TJ’s shopping experience is that nothing they sell costs more than $2.75 (this is basically true). It’s crazy. I don’t know how they do it—officially, something about cutting out the middle man— but as a born cynic I’m more than a little suspicious about the “organic” label that’s been stamped onto everything they stock, from pumpkin pancake mix to pickle relish. Not diminishing my skepticism is the fact that their produce isn’t very good and doesn’t last very long. Plus, no salad bar. I do enjoy a salad bar. But, hey. For a full year I was spending like $25 a week on groceries.
And then, quietly at first but then with a growing roar, I got kinda fat! Not super fat, but, you know. Kinda fat!
Fast-forward to the beginning of this month, when I moved to a new apartment. My closest grocery store is now the Whole Foods on Halsted. And I am starting, gradually, to get un-fat. Part of this unfattening is by design, but mostly I think it’s a byproduct of my new surroundings. And that’s because Trader Joe’s makes you fat.
Trader Joe’s makes you fat because everything they sell is ludicrously cheap, which means you buy more than you need, and consequently eat more than you otherwise would. No part of the buying process feels like it matters very much, and that same apathy translates directly to the eating process.
This is how the typical Trader Joe’s shopping experience goes:
You walk up and down the aisles just throwing interesting-looking shit in your cart until it’s full. Chocolate-dipped graham crackers? Why not! Horseradish hummus? Sign me up! Fuckin’… ginger wasabi lima bean/pea crossbreeds, whatever! Yes! I don’t care!
Then you sidle up to checkout with a cart full of three-adjective snacks, a couple sad-looking stalks of broccoli, some bananas that will turn brown overnight, three varieties of chicken sausage, some dope looking cheeses, a bottle of tempranillo, tortilla chips made from “veggie and flaxseed,” trail mix, a carton of “lobster” ravioli, salsa, and some English muffins.
(As an aside, I fucking can’t stand Trader Joe’s English muffins. I’ve been a daily e-muff consumer for years now, and let me tell you, the shit they’re pawning off as the real deal is just circular bread. An actual English muffin should be prepared by sticking a fork into its equator a bunch of times until it happily unlatches, like a clam. You should get to feel like you’re in a John Cheever short story. TJ’s English muffins require a steak knife to halve. They know neither nooks nor cranny. They are bread.)
Once you’ve arrived at checkout, you plop your hand basket onto an extendable shelf, and strike up a conversation with the cheerful checkout folks who wear Hawaiian shirts and fruit bowl hats. They will will quip about new Netflix releases and how they happened to have just the other day made the sandwich of a generation with that same horseradish hummus you are now buying.
The TJ’s checkout person, from costume to commentary, is designed to make you feel like you’re at an all-you-can-eat resort. They are Jimmy Buffet selling you flaxseed chips. They are living, breathing endorsements of the contents of your shopping cart. Know this, always.
After you pay your meager bill and spool the receipt into a cartable shape, you leave, elated.
At home, later that day, you will crush one of the items you purchased. Just destroy it, in a single, glorious sitting, alone.
By the end of my one-year tenure with Trader Joe’s as my primary care grocer, there were about a dozen items I would simply not allow myself to own. Because I, a 27-year old adult, am wholly incapable of not gorging myself on red pepper spread with eggplant and garlic. And everything bagel bagel chips. And, on particularly gruesome nights, the infamous “cookie butter.” Jesus, dark times.
The Whole Foods I now default to is expensive. It is, in fact, about three times more expensive than Trader Joe’s. Meaning I can afford to buy less food—but the food I do buy is healthier. So I’m eating less, but better. And their salad bar kicks ass.