The Art of the Grocery List

Ah, the humble grocery list.

I often find scraps of paper in my pockets with scribbled reminders of the food we need. Milk is usually at the top of the list. Also eggs, sausage and bacon for the one meal I make that never changes: Sunday morning breakfast.

When I shop without a list, I fall prey to every marketing scheme cooked up by the grocery stores, particularly “Buy One, Get One Free” aka BOGO. Bread, nuts, peanut butter, cookies, snacks–whatever they’ve got, I can surely use, and if I have two, all the better, right? Never mind that two party-sized packages of Oreo’s are two too many for people trying to cut carbs.

Every now and then, I make a real plan. I create a week or two of menus and make a list based on the ingredients needed to complete every meal. Those lists are usually two full columns of a legal pad page, and take me an entire day–sometimes an entire weekend–to compile. It adds at least another hour to go through coupons and tailor my list to the available bargains. Then two hours at the store, and a challenge to the bag person to get everything in my overfull cart into the reusable bags I brought.

This is grocery list-making elevated to a fine art.

Every time I make a grocery list, I think of the book A Canticle for Leibowitz. In this dystopian novel, a character searches for religous relics in a world of nuclear devestation, moving through a bleak landscape decimated beyond all recognition. When he finally finds his treasure, it includes a hallowed scrap of paper, a treasured remnant of a time when the world still had beauty, and life was comfortable instead of a struggle to survive. What is on that scrap of paper?

Pound pastrami, said one note, can kraut, six bagels–bring home for Emma. 

The sacred shopping list.

What if my grocery list was all that was left of our society? That is quite a thought. I hope it would be one of the good ones, not the Post-it note scribbled quickly before I leave work, struggling to remember the ingredients for the meal I’m making.

Of course, I hope that my bequest to the world is something more significant than a grocery list, but as I compose ever more of my work on the computer, it is less likely that any of it would survive an apocalyptic event. So as I go through my days, living life in the way the people of my society do, I sometimes pause and wonder about the words I hand-write, now nearly all lists of one kind and another. What would someone think if they had no context for my list? What if it were yours?

Sort of makes you consider this humble task with a little more respect, doesn’t it?

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