Apparently, many people are really, really opinionated about groceries. Over at Serious Eats there's a great discussion going on about those items we buy that we're not exactly thrilled to show off. Instant mashed potatoes (seemingly used, ubiquitously, in alternative applications like sourdough starters and potato bread) are proving popular, among luncheon meats and that stuff in the blue box Kraft insists on calling macaroni and cheese.
Part of me wants to laugh (who cares what you buy if it makes you happy) and part of me knows that deep down, I am a food snob too. I can't help it, my mother raised me that way, and stressed what I call "real food" over most processed conveniences. I was still a little kid when I began to eschew such American family favorites as that curiously sawdust-like cheese product in a green cylinder Kraft insists on calling parmesan cheese (ahem, real Parmesan must be shredded or grated or crumbled or shaved, at the table please). I glance over my purchases in the grocery store and even sometimes feel they portray a certain image, and feel satisfied that if I am what I eat (or at least what I buy at the market) then I have at least small cause for satisfaction. I cook, prepare or bake things that many people buy (bread, cookies, cake, soup, macaroni and cheese, salad). I try to buy organic dairy and produce. I like my chocolate dark, my coffee black and Lipton tea sort of terrifies me (NH keeps asking me if it's "brown" tea) , though I'll have it at Waffle House with my Cheese 'n' Eggs and Cinnamon Toast.
Still, I think it's a little silly to fret over conveniences that make our lives work out a little easier. My mom cooked plenty while I was growing up, but we also did plenty of nights of making our own toppings for a frozen pizza (I did this with NH this weekend, as we are both fiends for caramelized onions on our pizza), and I know she always had a box of instant mashed potatoes on hand, along with all kinds of stuff that a working mother needs: garlic powder (gasp!), taco seasoning (boo!), string cheese (agh!) and frozen stuff for snacks, like toaster strudel (no!). She emphasized health but it's not like she had time to be a gourmet chef three times a day, and you know what, I turned out fine. She taught me about eating good things, eating (not too many) bad things, and leaving time in your day for fun.
I once debated whether those Polly-o string cheeses that used to come with "pizza sauce" for dipping were an actual food with my friend's boyfriend. She and I, both very interested in healthful eating and checking out New York restaurants and cooking things like tofu or spinach, had loved the things as children. He mocked us endlessly for them. In the end he was probably right, presented with one of those things (or the pizza Lunchables I once embraced) today I probably wouldn't give them a nibble. In the end, that's not the point. How you eat and what you eat really is a personal decision, and no one should feel embarrassed to like string cheese, frozen burritos, or chicken nuggets.
I've caught people tossing discriminating glances toward shopping carts laden with soda, stacked with chips, or featuring a case of Easy Mac (I think I lived on that freshman year, sigh). This sort of behavior is really childish. It's impossible to know why someone else eats or buys what they do, and since it hardly affects anyone but the person doing the shopping and their immediate family, I'd like to advocate for keeping our eyes on our own carts. Even more so, it'd be nice to see people stop judging themselves for the products they love or use as timesavers. No grown man should feel he needs to engage in furtive Nesquick purchasing.
What are your favorite grocery conveniences?