The grocery store challenge

by Madeleine Brown

Yeah, sure, you shouldn’t grocery shop on an empty stomach. And, you should stick to the outside aisles to avoid the oh-so-dangerous processed lore that lives in the store’s core. But what fun would there be in me telling you what you already know you should and shouldn’t do when grocery shopping. (If one is going to be bossy, you might as well be bossy with regards to subjects others are ignorant of.)

You want to have real fun at a grocery store? Then I propose you take on my grocery store challenge. Forget buying food. No, in my opinion, grocery stores are laden with potential dares and the perfect outpost for people watching. Thusly, the only list required when you head out for your “weekly shop” is mine below. Keep in mind this challenge—which in itself is multiple small challenges—is best done on Saturday morning when the store is usually at its fullest. So, rise from your (perhaps drunken) slumber, grab a to-go coffee and on your way to your neighbourhood brunch spot, have a little grocery store fun. I also highly recommend that you bring along an opponent, or two.

Children

We’re the lucky ones. Now old enough and wilful enough to shut down any offers to accompany our parents on the weekly shop, we can watch those poor young souls who must continue to suffer. I’d say see how many crying children you can count in the store, but it’s not only crying that cripples any parent’s chance of an efficient shop. Watch out for the over-curious type (they’re likely clinging to the store’s weekly offer flyer and touching every item within arm’s reach), the fighting siblings (fairly self-explanatory) and the runner (they’ve recently mastered walking and are capitalizing on the ability to escape their parents anxiety-ridden eye). If you attempt the challenge alone, keep a running tally and see if the number fluctuates from week-to-week. I also like to (secretly) award one children my top overall prize based on entertainment value and commitment to their state of mind. If with others, you can compare numbers and prize-worthy children. Warning: do not approach any children. You’re a stranger at this point in their lives and they aren’t supposed to talk to you, take candy from you or hop in your car (not that we lowly students have one of those).

Couples

Another set of fodder for people-watching are couples—specifically young professionals. Those beings apparently close to us generationally-speaking, who brunch every week—sometimes twice a week—own a home, have salaried jobs and committed ‘partners’ (they’re too grown up for boyfriends or girlfriends). Firstly, attempt to figure out who’s the dominant one (at least when it comes to grocery shopping). Who’s got an opinion on what goes in the cart and who’s along for the ride? Secondly, this is a pairing whose cart I like to peak at. If with a competitor take bets: is this a “go organic or go home” or “we want what we ate as students”-type couple? Loser buys brunch.

Prices

A classic grocery store game—and a mighty tricky one I might add—is to find the cheapest and most expensive items in the store. The price must be based on a single item purchase—no stocking up on 92 lemons here. My advice? Head to the toiletries, home or meat aisles for pricier goods. That said sometimes you’ll find the most ridiculous items in the randomest of places are the most expensive. Meanwhile check out produce for cheaper goods. (Hint: just how small a piece of fresh ginger can you break off from a larger hunk?)

Checkout lines

Should you actually need to purchase something on your grocery store challenge, make a game of it too. While you can technically compete with yourself over multiple shops, this challenge works best when done with a competitor on the same visit. Each take a check-out (you’re welcome to choose whichever you think is the most promising), start the clock and race to see who gets through first. Obviously you’ll ideally be buying as much as your opponent for ultimate fairness. If you do shop regularly enough, you’ll know which cashier you can trust for efficient swiping and payment. I recommend threatening stares towards your opponent and heavy breathing—basically get your game face on—to increase your intimidation factor. Plus if you make your competition obvious enough you might just score some cheerleaders from on-looking shoppers.