Saturday, March 20, 2010

Happiness Is A Thing Called (Trader) Joe*

(*Okay, you have to be of a certain age, or a connoisseur of old music, to get that song reference . . . )

My affair with Trader Joe started slowly, and innocently enough; I was a loyal Safeway customer, but a friend told me that this funky alternative store had a cheaper price on Crystal Guiser Juice Squeeze (the carbonated juice beverage to which my kids are addicted). I just popped in for a second, honestly, but then I noticed their vanilla soy milk was cheaper, and it turned out to taste really good. Okay, just for Juice Squeeze and soy milk . . . and wow, those wine prices are fabulous, and pretty soon I was going every couple of weeks for a few key items. You could say the soy milk was my 'entry drug', and now I'm completely addicted to their prepared salads, storebrand humus, great deals on frozen shrimp, terrific baked goods, reasonably priced coffee . . . stop me, I'm starting to salivate! Plus there's always something to taste, and while the samples can be weird, there is an occasional winner (the polenta coins with bolognese sauce were to die for).

Oh, I patronize the supermarket for basics, but it's big, impersonal, and overwhelming. Instead of a large aisle with 200 brands of sugar-laden cereals, I love seeing Joe's small section, including several low-sugar, high-fiber choices that actually taste better than cardboard. (Barry Schwartz has written a whole scholarly book, The Paradox of Choice - Why More Is Less, that backs me up in thinking most stores offer too many options.) And I love the funky, hawaiian-shirted clerks, the men with ponytails and the women with tattoos, and the way it feels like going to a Berkeley food co-op (even though I know it's a large chain and it's probably more evil than Starbucks).

But if I ever start wavering in my devotion, the floral section brings me right back. Just like Renee Zellweger told Jerry Maguire, 'You had me at hello', Trader Joe's had me at the $1.29 daffodils. (Where else can you find a treat that makes you smile, lasts for several days, has no calories, and costs less than a plain cup of coffee?)

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