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Bulking Up For the Winter

Cip cocktail Why don’t run-of-the-mill grocery stores in NYC sell bulk food? This was literally keeping me awake last night. I yelled the question repeatedly from my bedroom into the kitchen where James was doing dishes and garnered no response until my third attempt got a ridiculous “It’s not worth answering.” That’s absolutely not true.

A million years ago when I first moved to NYC I was stymied by the Associateds, Key Foods, C Towns and the like packaging everything up for you in Styrofoam and cling film or plastic containers. What if I only wanted a handful of white mushrooms or half a cup of pecans? It seemed so wasteful to force large amounts of perishables on a shopper.

My genius idea would be selling fresh herbs in bulk. Of course, there wouldn’t be much profit in this business model. I can never use 20 thyme sprigs or even a whole cilantro bundle before it starts to go bad.

I’m still not sure if it’s a space and convenience issue; it’s just easier for a store to present you with ready-to-go items, if it’s hygiene like too many hands touching the goods, that people would just take food and not pay or that New Yorkers have a more difficult time than the average consumer with self-service (I tend to believe the latter having seen way too many jams and general cluelessness at the few stores that offer self-checkout).

My big scam when I was a younger teen and candy was enough to make my day, was filling my baggie with bridge mix and writing down the code for chocolate-covered peanuts, which were way cheaper. I only got busted once, which was no big deal because you could just play dumb. People were more trusting. This was during the era when stores would sell kids cigarettes with notes from their parents (I had a neighbor in high school who legitimately did this, the reasoning being that they had had drug problems and were in recovery and their family was happy to see them smoking as long as it meant they weren’t abusing other substances).

I’d forgotten about the lack of bulk food even being problematic until this weekend when I paid a visit to Wegmans in Woodbridge, NJ, a much higher class of grocery store than the already classier-than-NYC garden state supermarkets I normally patronize. The store is mammoth with spacious rows of anything you could think of (except corn tortillas and polenta in a tube it turned out—what’s up with the maize aversion? Maybe someone read The Omnivore's Dilemma one too many times) including a nice row of bulk food dispensers. You don’t even know the joy I derived from meting out the tiniest scoop of pepitas. It’s very satisfying to pay $1 and some change for what you actually need instead of $5 for a container that will just go stale.

I would’ve explored Wegmans further (and possibly found those corn products eventually) but I was running late to meet friends at Cheeseburger in Paradise just minutes away on the other side of Route 1. If you ever want live covers of all your favorite ‘90s hits (think Counting Crows and Extreme) and a signature cocktail composed of pina colada, rum runner, margarita, daiquiri and blue curacao layers, all in the same glass, garnished with a gummy cheeseburger on a toothpick and fruit wearing sunglasses (they’re called “garnimals”) show up at this Jimmy Buffet chain at 9:30pm on a Saturday.

Oh, and why don’t they sell bulk food in NYC?

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  1. suzanne #

    From a loyal Wegman’s shopper…corn tortillas are in the dairy section under the prepackaged shredded cheese. Polenta in a tube??? Now I will have to find it! I am glad you got the chance to find out just how much Wegman’s rules!

    October 17, 2008

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