A Story of Monsters, Bean Sprouts, and Kombucha

Life is moving fast these days. And with the end of summer and the season of cool weather settling upon us, I think it’s important to take stock of what’s really important in life, like organic produce.

I recently watched a documentary called Cowspiracy, after which, I felt immediately horrible about eating meat and dairy since both are supposedly responsible for the impending doom of not only our arteries but also our boiling planet.

But living with a vegetarian makes me at least 63% vegetarian by association, and as such, organic produce has become very close to my heart. A weekend is not a weekend until we’ve stuffed our refrigerator with green leafy vegetables, bright, squishy fruits, and at least more than a few pickled products.

And so this story begins, as many of my weekends do, at the magical supermarket grocery; the offensively expensive, appropriately named, downright dangerous ... Whole Foods Market.

Source: commons.wikimedia.org

Source: commons.wikimedia.org

Are you ready?
Bring the bags?

I worry about many things in this life:

  • Money

  • Health

  • Flossing an appropriate amount

  • Buying new tires

  • Strange apartment bugs that don’t even have names

  • Shoes that aren’t slip-on

  • Traffic

  • Assembling furniture

  • Spending too much money

  • Dusting shelves

  • Returning goods through the mail

  • The excise tax

  • Finding parking spots

  • The crunchy stem part of romaine lettuce

  • Bacon cheeseburger shortages

  • Noisy parking lots

  • Dust mites.

And of course, the obvious — running out of big paper bags to put our recyclables.

So no, we do not need reusable bags. Not this time. And not because we are running out of paper bags, but more so because I am inexplicably uncomfortable with the reasonable amount of paper bags that we do have.

There are enough, plenty even, so many that there is no clear and present danger of running out anytime soon, even for a household like ours; dedicated, responsible, and consistent with our recycling habits.

You see, I can’t just throw our plastics, glasses, and cardboard into the blue bin all willy-nilly. There is a code of conduct at our apartment building, and it requires the extra effort it takes to neatly pack and organize these items into the larger blue bins that line the outside walls of the weird smelly area of the parking lot.

Once a week, a man comes to organize this section before the city takes it all away. The area is gated and available only to those who dwell legally within the apartment building. This person’s job is made easier by the effort put in by the recyclers at the time of said recycling. The lazier they are, and most are, the more difficult his job gets.

These people just toss away their unorganized, unfolded, and uncivilized piles of recyclables everywhere, and in no particular order. That is why the paper bags are a necessary part of this organizing process. It’s called doing my part. It’s called contributing to the betterment of society. And thus the reason we must never run out of giant paper bags — ever.

There are many Whole Foods Markets within walking distance. But today is a special grocery day, and because we need craft beer and wine there is only one grocer with the necessary clout and licensing to provide us with a one-stop shop. We hop into the Sentra and after a few strange noises and confirmation that it is still in working condition we are on our way to Cambridge. 

We arrive and creep slowly through the parking lot, for some reason there are open spots. This must be a trap. There are never open spots; that is part of the charm. Why do I have so many options? I’m sweating, and my grip on the wheel won’t hold for long. The Sentra does not like driving during the weekends, it is semi-retired, and this is an unexpected trip.

I’m supposed to circle around several times, duck and weave my way through pedestrians like a minefield stuffed end-to-end with Lululemon, hipster babies, and plaid scarf wear.

Where is the barbershop quartet? Where is the University Quidditch team? The parents letting their children wander outside of crosswalks? The parents who let their children to wander outside the crosswalk are nowhere to be seen.

We park uncomfortably close to the store.

As we approach, I can see the entrance is flush on all sides, packed to the brim with the typical decorative autumn fare. 

We skip the pumpkins. I see bags upon bags of decorative mini gourds. It’s incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it. The fashionable wooden crates are designed to appeal to my innate desire for farm life and to remind me that this is the good stuff.

These are no chemically enhanced, cooked up in a lab and pumped with sugar, gourds. These are farm-raised, organic, cage-free gourds that were pampered and fed only the finest Smart Water and Perrier luxury brands for the natural enhancement of their ridges and vibrant colors.

Check the price.
Only $3.99/bag.

The question isn’t whether or not we buy these bags; the question is — how many do we buy? The answer we arrive at is two. Two bags of decorative mini-gourds at a price point of $3.99. At Whole Foods, this is an absolute steal.

Two is good.
Reasonable, right?

I’m not sure where logic like this comes from. We are full of hope and excitement. We are here! Our souls shout. And so we throw things in the carriage that weren’t on the list and will surely cost us dearly in the end.

These gourds are actually from the Boston Public Market but this sign was too good not to show.

These gourds are actually from the Boston Public Market but this sign was too good not to show.

To the produce.
Can you push?
I’ll push.

I am the pusher. I push the cart through the crowd of people who are all in my way. It’s like a video game, and they are the possessed, evil creatures attempting to block my safe passage to the grape tomatoes.

A woman with a double baby stroller blocks my way and even with outstretched arms I still can’t quite reach the bagged kale. It’s good for smoothies and sauteing — so says the bag.

I turn around and make a sharp right but I’m stopped by a man with an impossible triple baby stroller — it has all the extra attachments, including double drink holders. I’m trapped between the organic avocados and the asparagus displays. I’m awestruck and contained.

He smiles like the devil and wipes his black-framed glasses on his seasonally early fall puffy vest while taking a slow sip from a cup of Starbucks.

I breathe deeply.

Everyone knows if you can survive the produce section you have an 87% chance of not getting into hand-to-hand combat with a literature professor wearing an elbow-padded sports jacket or a mother who just forced her two children to get their Reiki certifications during school break.

Luckily our produce game is solid.

After the shock of entering these tight and narrow corridors, we settle down and focus. Amanda’s brows arch as she seizes and tosses radishes, carrots, kohlrabi, and stalks of dill, throwing them in high arcs, perfectly calculated, safely landing in our cart.

I push.
She skedaddles and picks.

I furiously check-off items on our shared grocery iPhone application with one hand as the other directs the cart through the sea of demons.

Our hair is tousled and flailing. Our clothes ruffled and torn. One false move and every single apple in this place will fall to the ground taking everyone with it.

Amanda bombs a bag of cremini mushrooms over her shoulder forty yards deep into the cart. A woman reading poetry stops to applaud and ends her praise with a curtsy.

Baby kale.

Vegetables are raining down from the sky as Amanda throws them up so quickly her arms become blurs. She spins around a man who is simultaneously holding a bicycle helmet and attempting to pull off capri pants in public next to a bushel of artichokes.

I check-off items and shout instructions. A young woman grabs four large organic celery roots and begins to juggle. It is chaos.

But we are almost finished. The end is nigh, and all that’s left is an onion — the edible bulb. As we turn the corner into the last ill-fated aisle, we are faced with the biggest beast of them all. An impossible, almost ludicrous monster: A mom, two friends, and a quad stroller.

A quad stroller?
What do we do?

They block our path, casually sauntering, yucking it up, most likely discussing who knows what! This is not a place for fun, for laughter, this is a place of business.

We are simply not prepared for this. Sure we made it this far but we still have our lives. Why tempt fate? Do we throw the bags of decorative gourds at them and make a run for it? It might give us a shot.

But it’s already too late. They’ve seen us. This is the end.

And then, Amanda starts doing something with her face. Her brow furrows. She is peering at them — aggressively.

These women are taller, and the numbers are clearly in their favor. But she doesn’t back down. Her brows arch more than I have ever thought possible.

The monster stops laughing. The time for gaiety is over, and dark clouds roll in, a tumbleweed fills the backdrop.

The monster peers back.
Amanda holds strong.
I duck behind the bin of frozen salmon.

Amanda’s gaze is gaining strength. The monster is no longer casually chatting about this and that or so and so. Amanda crouches and steam pours out from her eyelids. She fires a warning shot. A laser beam directly hits the wooden crate of onions just inches from their perch.

They’re backing down. It’s a full reverse. They limp away to the bakery. Once they are gone Amanda falls toward the ground but I catch her in my arms. She put everything she had into that look. I’ve never seen her reach that level before. And by golly it worked.

She defeated a quad.
She did the impossible.
We have our edible bulb.

After that, it’s passed the seafood for a quick glance at the natural creams, toothpaste, and woven basketry.

Amanda waves me on to the next level. It’s mostly smooth sailing from here on out. Just a few more items; coconut yogurt, almond milk, roasted verde salsa.  

You can have one.
Thank you.
You’re welcome.

We have salsa at home. Many salsas. I collect them. I don’t know what happens when you run out of salsa, and hopefully I will never find out. Our makeshift pantry is filled with all kinds; roasted garlic, mild, medium, hot, bean and corn. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Before I know it, we’re already on the other side of the supermarket. As much as the produce section was filled with demons and strange monsters patrolling the aisles of fashionable wooden crates, this end of the store is packed with wonderful treasures and treats that any sane man or woman would be foolish not to consider.

I hear the siren call as we walk by mountains of cheese samples, fine wines, and slices of artisan pizza cooked to perfection in brick ovens right before your eyes.

There is a woman by the prepared sushi section handing out credit cards to anyone and everyone who is prepared to actually go to the checkout line.

We need olives, right?

Let it be known that I don’t actually know how much it costs to produce, ship, and sell fresh olives.

However, if you marinate them in a bunch of spices, stick them in a little plastic tub, and throw on a sticker that explicitly says Extreme Value, then I will purchase those olives at a price point of $10.99. I will not retire, ever. But I will enjoy fresh olives.

Extreme Value is all I have time for.

Extreme Value is all I have time for.

Amanda doesn’t even blink as I place the olives in our cart. Our carriage looks good. It’s brimming. We sneak past more piles of cheese just in time to not hoard several blocks of delicious dairyness into the carriage.

Salad bar?
Salad bar

When you’re hungry and in the prepared foods section of Whole Foods Market the question you have to ask yourself is:

Just how badly do you want a freshly sprouted bean salad?

I still don’t quite know what that is, but I begin filling up my box. I love corn, and I pile it on.

In goes the shaved carrots, peppers, red onions, arugula, more olives, lentils, cucumbers. I’m running out of space, but my excitement for salad toppings is reaching an all-time high.

I top off with a healthy serving of chickpeas and gigante beans only to come face-to-face with a giant tank of self-serve organic kombucha.

I must be hallucinating.

The sign states that we can have a reusable, refillable glass bottle for only $2.99. Can this really be so? Ginger lime flavor? This is the holy grail of weirdness. I look at our carriage and start sweating. I look back at the kombucha tank. The carriage. Kombucha. Carriage. Ginger lime. Can we afford it?

Do it.
Do it?

And so, with a carriage overflowing with organic produce, coconut products, craft beers, and a couple of giant salads, we place our ginger lime kombucha into the cart. What the hell? You only live once, right?

Checkout: The Final Destination.

The place where life gets real and numbers get silly. We have a chance to see each and every item we thought was worth the sacrifice of our hard-earned cash flow.

Neither of us flinch at the bags of decorative gourds; those are filed under necessity.

The fennel is a question mark. I’ve never truly understood what fennel is used for and probably never will. 

We play a game about the bill. I wildly overshoot, hoping, praying, please lord almighty, that the final bill comes in somewhere under. Thankfully I lose the game and I don’t feel overly horrible about the final cost. Which is crazy, but nevertheless is how I feel inside.  

We are on our way home now, souls intact, monsters defeated, bank account alive but wobbling on one leg and standing over a cliff.

As I drive our organic produce back to the apartment, Amanda takes a moment to look me in the eyes and speak.

Those gourds were very reasonably priced.

Truer words have never been spoken.

We arrive home and unpack. The stack of paper bags gives me a sense of accomplishment even though I didn’t have to steal any today. We talk about how we’re going to display our new decorative mini gourds. We don’t want to upstage our decorative turban gourd, Socktron II, but still, we need some sort of plan.

Glorious paper bags. Look closely and you will see a reusable, refillable, bottle of organic kombucha in the background.

Glorious paper bags. Look closely and you will see a reusable, refillable, bottle of organic kombucha in the background.

She gazes at the armoire in the living room that stores my clothing, atop the armoire is the storage area of vases not currently in use.

What about vertical gourds?
Vertical gourds?
Vertical gourds.

And so it is settled. These gourds, at the price point of $3.99 per bag, are going vertical, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Amanda puts the groceries away as I march about our apartment and across our big blue carpet, gathering available vestibules for the mini decorative gourds. At final count, we have 13 mini decorative gourds, 12 new paper bags for recycling, and one perfect fall day.

Gourds going vertical.

Gourds going vertical.

Life sure is moving fast these days. And it’s important for me to take stock, to remind myself of what’s really important. There is plenty to worry about if you let yourself. Monsters to fight. Demons to outrun. Treasures that will distract you from what you truly want. To tell you the truth, I can't even really imagine my life without organic produce. I barely remember what life was like before it.

Today was a good trip to the supermarket. Expensive, but good. Now the gourds go into the vases. The organic produce into the refrigerator. And the giant salads into our bellies. And let me tell you this … organic ginger lime kombucha never tasted so good.

Until the next adventure.

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