Zia Hassan

On Grocery Stores

In the summers of my youth, when my sister and I were off from school, with no summer camps going on or any activities really, we used to accompany my mom to the grocery store.

I remember quite vividly how frigid it was. How I wanted to leave the moment I got there. It was a unique feeling because while I generally disliked doing errands with my mom, the grocery store was a particular kind of hell for me.

As a kid, the complaints were mostly around temperature and lack of things to do. At least at the mall, I could see different stores full of interesting things. I could hide under the clothing spinners. I could poke myself with push pins in the dressing room (putting the needles right under my epidermis so it didn’t hurt but looked cool).

Hell, even going to the doctors was better. There were magazines and movies in the waiting room and one of those huge wired things with moveable rings.

But the grocery store was my most dreaded activity. And it’s even worse now.

Shopping carts are a great idea for containing groceries. But they’re huge and unwieldy. It’s easy to crash into a barrier or even another cart or person. At least it is for me, and the lack of maintenance on those carts sure doesn’t help. I’m always swinging back out of an aisle to let someone else pass.

It’s hard to find anything, at least for me. Oh sure, 80% of my list is in places that are somewhat obvious: the produce is in the produce section, the cereal in the cereal aisle.

But what about tahini? Is it in the international food aisle? Or the canned foods aisle? Why isn’t there a directory or index that can tell me? Why is it when I ask a store employee where the tahini is they have to ask someone else who has to call a manager?

I tell you, I’ve spent hours in one aisle, my eyes darting back and forth among the jars and cans, trying to find fucking tahini. Maybe it’s just me, and I’m missing the spacial awareness needed to navigate such a store, but it’s irritating as hell. I’ve also sometimes seen green olives included only in a special corner along with cheese and crackers, just to be cute I guess. Not in the canned food aisle.

I will admit that those handheld scanners at giant that allow you to scan as you go are very useful and efficient. But that’s one store. How it’s not commonplace is beyond me. And of course services like Instacart and Peapod solve this issue, but even the few times I do visit a brick and mortar store ruin my mood and destroy my morale.

But it’d be silly to complain without suggesting some solutions. Here are mine.

  1. Wider aisles. Yes the produce section looks spacious but it’s actually a series of intersecting pathways that make crashes even more likely.
  2. Organize everything alphabetically. I know I know, categories are useful. But what if we planned our trips ahead of time, what if it wasn’t about browsing the aisles? What if we alphabetized our shopping list so the grocery store trip was just a systematic experience? No friction at all. And maybe an index so we know that chickpeas are in the G aisle because they’re known as garbanzo beans.

Let’s make the world a better and more efficient place, starting with grocery stores.