A year ago, I logged into the website for our local supermarket and shopped online. I was getting ready for a big holiday meal and was grading papers, so I was desperately looking for way to ways to save time. It was an alright experience. I did save about a half hour of time. I didn't get distracted by other items in the store and kept to the shopping list more strictly. I didn't have to deal with old people clogging up the lanes.
I haven't shopped online ince then. I like picking out my own produce. I like browsing the meat section. I like poking the cheeses.
Also, online shopping is for people who only food shop every week or so and stick to one store. That's not how I shop. Instead of one big shopping trip a week, I usually do five smaller trips. I tend to decide on the dinner menu around 3:00 every day, because I'm not very organized. I go to three or four different markets for different things. I like to go to Trader Joe's for cheese and hummus, Kings for the fish, and Shop Rite for canned goods.
Mark Bittman wonders if online shopping could enable people to make better food choices. He isn't all that thrilled with online shopping either, but he envisions a system that would allow for more consumer selectivity.
This is my fantasy about virtual grocery shopping: that you could ask
and be told the provenance and ingredients of any product you look at
in your Web browser. You could specify, for example, “wild,
never-frozen seafood” or “organic, local broccoli.”
You could also immortalize your preferences (“Never show me anything
whose carbon footprint is bigger than that of my car”; “Show me no
animals raised in cages”; “Don’t show me vegetables grown more than a
thousand miles from my home”), along with any and all of your cooking
quirks (“When I buy chicken, ask me if I want rosemary”). You would
receive, if you wanted, an e-mail message when shipments of your
favorite foods arrived at the store or went on sale; you could get
recipe ideas, serving suggestions, shopping lists, nutritional
information and cooking videos. If poor-quality food arrived — yellowing broccoli, stinky fish, whatever — you
would receive store credit without any hassle. You might even, I
suppose, be able to ask the store to limit the amount of impulse
purchases that you make — forget that second pint of Ben & Jerry’s
or those Cheez-Its you have trouble resisting.
Even with these options, I'm still not sold on online shopping. Most people wouldn't bother to use those advanced Bittman preferences. It also takes people one step further away from the food. Inspected a bin of lettuces and finding the best head is an important part of the food experience. I don't care if I get Romaine, Green Leaf, or Bibb lettuce. I just want to get the freshest variety I can. I need to be in the store to make that determination.
The only downside to all this food shopping is that I often have to bring my kids along with me. That means that blueberry waffles and Crush Cups end up in the cart, along with the fresh Bibb lettuce. On the hand, I have started to train them. They now know where everything is. We go into the store and I send them off in separate directions for the various items. "Jonah, go get the apple juice. Ian, we need bread." They scamper off like Border Collies with big grins on their faces. They think it's a treasure hunt or something.