Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Grocery Conundrum - Why I prefer the friendly neighborhood desi kirana store to the US versions

Who would've imagined dowdy, boring grocery shopping to cause so much melodrama every week ! But it does, at least in the US.

It's easy to do grocery in India - pricing usually takes a backseat in deciding where to shop, because all packaged goods have the same retail price across the nation. You go to the nearest market, pick a kirana store with a sweet uncle ji/aunty ji manning it, and soon enough, they know your weekly list by heart and will have Chotu bring out the 2-lt Thums Up, no-sugar-added juice and bag of roast peanuts as soon as you set foot inside. Some chit-chat and gossip exchanges later, you're all set for the week. 

Photo courtesy Outlook magazine
Not so the US. As with everything else  in this country, you have way too many options on where you want to get your aata-dal from. For most people, it comes down to cost differences - the price of the same product can vary greatly from store to store.

The lowest-price retailer in any area tends to be Walmart. Price-wise, it makes sense to shop there all the time. But for the downer - Walmart is depressing. Very depressing. Bleakly lit, withering bunches of flowers, week-old piles of apples and bruised bananas, and a bakery section where the ingredient of choice is lard. It does offer vast choices at great prices, and some of those choices are good ones (high-fiber cereal, no-preservative yoghurt). It is up to us to sort through the crap.

Produce at Walmart
This is just sad
In stark contrast is Whole Foods - a mecca of organic, locally-grown goodness, of produce fresh off the farm, flaxseed supplements on everything and a preservative-free, calorie-conscious bakery ! It stocks shelves upon shelves of imported Italian pasta sauces, whole-grain cereal, cage-free eggs, grass-fed beef, hand-cut potato chips and even gourmet international cuisine (Sanjeev Kapoor mango pickle, anyone ?) - things that will have you feeling more wholesome and healthy just by looking at them. Well, the one part of you that won't feel so healthy - your wallet. Yep, organic comes at a steep cost; just because the farmers save on pesticides doesn't mean you save too. 

Produce at Whole Foods
Well-stocked with fresh, crisp veggies
So, where do we go ? Cheap Walmart, where our wallets will thank us but we'll need mood-enhancers later, or Whole Foods, where we'll feel uplifted and broke ?

We've reached a compromise - for the packaged stuff (toothpaste, soap, paper towels, cereal, canned goods etc.), Walmart is just fine. For produce, it makes sense to shell out a bit more and buy pesticide-free, fresher stuff, so every few weeks, we run by WF and stock up.

What do you look for in a grocery store ? Would you prefer the perfect aisles of US stores to the chaos of desi kirana shops ? Would you pay more for fresh and organic, or does that scream "scam" to you ?


  1. Indian perspective , our organic food was out of Ma's kitchen garden! Go for healthy looking veggies.... Walmart veggies look so dead!

    1. True. Nothing more organic than food you grow yourself !