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Faux Outrage

Literally the most important blog in the universe since 2010.

Category Archives: Food!

Not long ago, while walking from the grocery store back to my apartment, I passed a man who by all accounts — or at least one specific account, mine — was in dire straits.  My evidence?  The fact that he approached and asked me for some money.

I guess you could say I’m a bit of a detective.

Now, I’m not so obtuse as to believe that the mere fact a person asks/begs/pleads/juggles for money automatically means that he is homeless or “down on his luck” in a meaningful, dickensian way.  But I do know that whatever inspires a person to ask a stranger for money, whether it be desperation, depression, or any number of soul-crushing addictions, it is a behavior that I cannot (or perhaps choose not to) imagine exhibiting.

In that sense, if nothing else, it is fair to say that the person in this story is worse off than I can imagine.  That said, there are a couple of reasons why I felt it a tad strange — or at least a bit uninspired — that this particular man in this particular situation asked me for straight-up American currency.

Number one, I didn’t have a hand free to dig into my pockets (wherein the currency theoretically resides).  And number two, the reason I did not have a hand free to dig into my pockets was due to that fact that I was carrying two enormous bags of food.

Food, glorious food!

_
I’m a softie, though, so I said to the guy, “Honestly, I don’t have any change, but how about a peach?”

A pause.

“Nah.”

Yes, after quick consideration, this man — possibly homeless — sighed out a half-hearted nah.

Nah.

I was floored.

First of all, if you’re asking strangers for money, you should at least have the decency to pretend you’re interested in using that money for food.  Food like a peach!  If nothing else, this perception needs to be a part of any money-taking routine/charade:  You pretend that you’re not going to put my $0.60 toward a Steel Reserve tallboy later on, and I pretend not to know that very same fact.

That’s the deal.

But then, as I turned the corner and headed home, my anger rapidly faded into confusion.  The more I thought about the interaction, the more I realized that the awkwardness and indignity I felt ultimately had nothing to do with poverty, politeness, shame, gentrifier’s guilt, or any social science theory neatly explained in a Sociology 101 textbook.

Nah.

This is about peaches!

_
Who, no matter what his circumstances, turns down a free peach?

I don’t care if you’re looking for drug money, beer money, beer-laced-with-drugs money, or not looking for anything in particular.  When someone offers you a free peach, you take the free peach!

Peaches are wonderful.

Free peaches are manna from heaven.

As a general rule, I am intrigued by these getting-asked-for-change circumstances, but that intrigue is usually followed by a sharp, painful sort of guilt that I specifically associate with my interactions with the homeless (or “homeless” if you prefer).  Leading up to — and in the midst of — these interactions, my internal monologue shifts into detached academic mode.  I carefully weigh and consider the macro-socioeconomic issues that led to the interaction, thus diminishing the actual (“potential”) suffering taking place before me.  The ease with which I am able to quickly disassociate from a very real, upsetting interaction is an aspect of my personality that I am willing — but so far completely unable — to shake.

As a result, I’m a bit of a sucker.

I say “a bit of a sucker” as opposed to “a full-fledged sucker” because I never physically open my wallet.  When I have change — as in, physical, clangy coins in my pocket — I will give it away.  Even in the event the total amount of change surpasses $1, it is available to anyone who asks earnestly.  But I will never reach for paper bills.

The paper bills are mine.

In the 21st century, this is actually a bit of a problem if you goal is to get currency in the hands of those who request/need it.  I am still perfectly willing to give away my change, but the fact is I don’t use cash much these days.  Every transaction that I can complete using a credit card will be carried out in that manner.  Basically, I only have coins in my pocket when I am returning from a Cash Only (“tax evading”) establishment.  As a result, with each passing year — though my standard for money-distribution has not changed — the amount of cash I distribute consistently diminishes.

Presumably, I am not the only one with the “change in pocket” standard for giving money to homeless people.  My guess is that there are thousands of people who are in the same boat as me: they would give more money than they do, but because they are tied to using their credit card, they are not often provided the opportunity to do so.  In the end, the pool of “available” money for the needy shrinks as credit card usage increases.

But could this be a good thing?  Perhaps, as a result of the ever-diminishing pool of money, asking people for spare change will no longer be a functional way to raise money for your food/drugs/food-drugs.  Perhaps, to the extent that us change-givers are enabling a lifestyle that ultimately should be altered, there is a net benefit to our not having any pennies, quarters, nickles, and dimes in our pockets.

Wouldn’t that be peachy?

Meek, "Keep Your Coins I Want Change"

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Warning! This is another grocery store post.

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A lot of folks are upset about this Dr. Pepper 10 commercial because the product is being advertised to men in a gender-negative way that is at best alienating and at worst insulting to women.  I’m annoyed by Dr. Pepper 10, too, but my frustration stems not from the question of whether it is socially acceptable to market a product to 49% of the world’s population by cinematically flicking off the other 51%.

Quite frankly, I’m not concerned about how Dr. Pepper 10 is being marketed.

I resent that it exists at all.

There are any number of cliched reasons to be anti-soda/pop/coke.

Most of us agree that, as a rule, these carbonated comfort drinks contain zero nutrition, unapologetically destroy our teeth (with fun bubbles!), and are so inexpensive that there is a serious economic incentive to fill our bodies — and our children’s bodies — with fizzy stuff instead of any liquid that resembles actual food intended for human consumption (like juice)!

And yet, none of these reasons are the root of why I believe we — men and women! — should know better than to purchase Dr. Pepper 10.

Put simply, Dr. Pepper 10 is barely a unique product.

Here are the other products in the non-“flavored” Dr. Pepper family:

  1. Dr. Pepper / 100 calories, caffeine
  2. Dr. Pepper (Diet) / 0 calories, caffeine
  3. Dr. Pepper (Caffeine Free) / 100 calories, 0 caffeine
  4. Dr. Pepper (Diet, Caffeine Free) / 0 calories, 0 caffeine

So far as I can tell, those four products match the four “desire states” that lead to purchasing Dr. Pepper-based liquid.

  1. I like the flavor (Dr. Pepper)
  2. I like the flavor, but not the calories (Dr. Pepper-Diet)
  3. I like the flavor, but not the caffeine (Dr. Pepper-Caffeine Free)
  4. I like the flavor, but not the calories nor caffeine (Dr. Pepper-Diet, Caffeine Free)

This “new” product is merely a 10 calorie version of Dr. Pepper.  In other words, Dr. Pepper 10 is Diet Dr. Pepper plus ten calories.

Ten.

Of course it’s true that 10 calories is infinitely larger than zero calories, but it’s still fair to ask: What brand of consumer is turned off by a zero calorie version of Dr. Pepper (Diet Dr. Pepper) but would instead be compelled to purchase a ten calorie drink (Dr. Pepper 10) who is not purchasing Dr. Pepper?  The commercials plainly state that Dr. Pepper 10 is being marketed towards men, but “men” is not the group that buys it.

So which consumer group is it?

The Indecisive, of course.

Yes, the Indecisive!  You know, the folks who buy 1% milk instead of 2% or skim, neapolitan ice cream instead of a real flavor, and prefer “low fat” to “no fat.”  They buy paper plates made from recycled materials and prefer their ranch dressing “on the side.”  They like medium “hot” sauce, don’t eat meat (except chicken), and just want a couple bites of your dessert.

And of course, they invented the spork.

Dr. Pepper 10 gives these indecisive consumers an opportunity to “choose” between products that are barely discernible (Diet Dr. Pepper and Dr. Pepper 10).  Grocery patrons that specialize in baby-splitting can show their off their (non-)decision-making prowess by grabbing the thing in the “middle” (10 calories vs. 0 or 100 calories).

And though doing so feels like a choice, the reality is that when you buy Dr. Pepper 10, what you’re buying is not an exciting new product — and barely a new product at all — but a tangible representation of your inability to show any kind of commitment or decision-making skills.

So while it’s true that Dr. Pepper 10 commercials exclusively directed at men are insulting to one of the genders, it might not be the one that you think.

Ain’t technology (and awkward folksy speech) grand?

Every so often, in the midst of an all-to-common daydream (the one where I am doing the opposite of whatever I am actually doing), I am comforted by how wonderful it is to live in a time when most of my otherwise fatal — or at the very least, highly destructive — flaws are muted by the tangible result of a long line of expertly developed technologies.

For example, I can’t spell, but what I can do is press F7 and notice red squiggly lines beneath my unintentionally-though-irresponsibly-lettered words!  My sense of direction is as developed as my extra sensory perception, but I have no trouble following the soothing, robotic instructions from that not-quite-British lady’s voice on a GPS.  I’m a terrible hunter (probably?), but man, these modern food delivery systems really make eating really, really simple!

Technology: quite grand, indeed.

And yet, as the years go by, as technologists continue to technologize technologizingly, there are folks who wish to turn back the clock — to the extent that we still physically “turn back” clocks, which we don’t, because clocks are digital now.  We have somehow gotten to the point where the phrase “turn back the clock” has evolved into an example of the days-of-yore notion it references. It’s pretty incredible, actually: a saying that hearkens back to the past is completely outdated.  So, as a general rule of thumb, the next time you wish to accuse someone of being a Luddite (Ludditity?), do not fist-poundingly declare that they wish “to turn back the clock” unless you are trying to score some serious irony points.

I digress.

(Really.  It’s what I do.)

(Also, I do a lot of typing in parenthesis.)

Anyway, back to the intersection between food delivery systems and technology.

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to suggest that the development of food preservation technologies radically changed the course of human history.  By storing and modifying foods in such a way as to increase their shelf-life, people were able to apportion time otherwise spent on fresh food prep for, well, pretty much anything else.  And that was a good thing, except when that “anything else” time was used for causing destruction and general mayhem.  Food preservation led to reduction of illness (though an increase in slicing-your-hand-open-on-jagged-can), extended life expectancy, and enabled complex communities to form by centralizing food production, which allowed people to focus on developing other socially useful skills (like clock-making!).

Preservatives changed the world!  For the better!

And yet, today, “preservative” is a bad word.  Preservatives are not to be trusted, consumed, or ever even purchased in the first place.  We are now inundated with reports that they will make you sick, ruin your local community, and even kill you in the long term!  In other words, the opposite of the actual history of food preservation.

Of course, there are good reasons for buying preservative-free food when preservation is not at the top of your list of concerns, but let’s cut these world-changers some slack.

So please, when you’re standing in line so you can pay twice as much for bread that will last 15% as long, just know that one of the primary reasons you’re able to make the choice to live a highbrow, organic lifestyle is due to the trail blazed by those pesky, icky preservatives you’re paying so much to avoid.

The truth is, nobody likes to talk about this.

Certain conversations are difficult to engage in because they require an acknowledgement that some strongly-held belief may not be completely accurate, imposing doubt and uncertainty where once stood contentedness and security.

There are those of us who refuse to acknowledge the possibility that our childhood idol was probably a cheating, drunken womanizer, that our favorite “artsy” band is much more interested in money than Monet (and in dollies than Dali, incidentally), or that maybe — just maybe! — the income and capital gains tax cuts we’ve been clamoring for don’t magically pay for themselves.

At a certain point, we must recognize the truth of what other people have been calling “facts” for so long that we have, in our most forgiving moments, unapologetically referred to as “unconfirmed speculation.”

With that said — and I really am sorry to do this — here is some capital-T Truth:

Apples are overrated.

Apple fanboys offer a few arguments explaining why apples are actually underrated, or at the very least, rated just fine the way they are.

Those arguments are as follows:

  1. “Apples are cheap.” (The Prostitute Argument)
  2. “Delicious things are made of apples.” (The Non-Apple Argument)
  3. “Apples are firmly represented in American culture, traitor.” (The Ethnocentric Argument)
  4. “An apple per day keeps the doctor away.” (The Outright Lie Argument)

Let’s take these arguments one at a time:

The Prostitute Argument

Claim: “Apples are cheap and easy.”

Reaction: It’s true, apples are not expensive.  According to the USDA Economic Research Service (which is apparently a thing), apples cost a mere $0.11 per fruit serving, the lowest of any fruit.  The cheapest vegetable, according to that same report?  Cabbage.  Where are the cabbage parades?  Is anyone making the argument that cabbage is the best vegetable because of how cheap it is compared to a cucumber?  (Hint: nope.)

Apples also get a lot of credit for being the quickest fruit refrigerator-to-face.  If you see an apple and are near a source of clean water (to rinse your prize), you can begin munching in under 3 seconds.

That’s just great.

But let’s change the hypothetical just a little bit.  What if you were at a party, let’s say a barbecue, where a plethora of prepared fruits had been placed on a common table.  There are freshly washed apples alongside peeled oranges, watermelon slices, prepared pre-pared pears, fresh grapes, sliced kiwi fruit, and destemmed strawberries.  How long would those apple slices last?

Exactly.

When pit against most any other prepared fruit, the apple loses.

The Non-Apple Argument

Claim: “Delicious things are made of apples.”

Reaction: While it is quite true that apples can be baked or converted into all kinds of scrumptious things (pies, crisps, cobblers, strudels) and even mashed up to make applesauce, it’s worth noting that each of these items has one thing non-apple in common: they require gobs and gobs of sugar.

If you’re favorite thing about apples is that they can be turned into something delicious if you add a ton of sugar to them, I have some bad news for you: your true love is sugar, not apples.  This logic also extends to lobster fans (secret butter lovers), hollandaise fans (cholesterol lovers), fans of playing golf (frustration lovers).

If the best part about something is that it can be converted into something else, it’s quite possible that the original something may not be so great after all.

Sorry, apples.

The Ethnocentric Argument

Claim: “Apples are firmly represented in American culture, traitor.”

Reaction: Apples are everywhere!  They are as American as apple pie!  Candied apples at the state and county fair!  Apple-picking!  Bringing an apple to the teacher!   Bobbing for apples!  The Big Apple!

Yes, yes, that’s all true.  Apples are everywhere.

But nowadays, if a man yells “Apple!” in a crowded theater, he is more likely to conjure images of hipsters waiting in line to buy an iPad than a freshly baked pie on mom’s window sill, its wafting aroma lovingly lifting a longing cartoon hobo off his feet.    In this country, the apple is now sliding into second place on the List of Things People Think About When Someone Says “Apple”.

That’s not a good sign.

The Outright Lie Argument

Claim: “An apple per day keeps the doctor away.”

Reaction: No, this is not true.

Although the mighty Apple Lobby would have you believe this falsehood, an apple each day will not keep a doctor away.  In fact, studies have shown that daily apple intake has very little to do with doctor visits.  Unless, of course, you are a post-menopausal woman.  Lack of proper health insurance (and underinsurance) is far more likely to keep a doctor away.

That said, there may be a situation where an apple per day is an appropriate interest payment on the barter you offered your doctor for necessary medical services.  In those limited circumstances, where an apple/day is the decided upon interest payment, the apple will in fact keep your doctor away, legally speaking.

My Closing Argument

Still not convinced?

What if I told you that my deeply held apple skepticism is firmly rooted in the completely true Bible?

Well, it is.

The Book of Genesis promises us that when Eve (and then Adam) ate an apple from the Tree of Knowledge, they were banished from the Garden of Eden, made aware of their mortality, and forced to endure eternal pain that they would have otherwise avoided (hard manual labor for him and childbirth pain/subjugation for her).  Upon hearing this news from God, it’s not hard to imagine Eve turning to the now-slithering serpent, looking back at the Tree of Knowledge, then making the same point to Adam that I am making now.

“As it turns out,” she would sigh apologetically, “apples are overrated.”

I used to spend a lot of time watching cartoons.*  A lot of time.  I remember shows about dogs looking for ghosts, dogs living with cats, and cats livid with skunks.  And though they were all wonderful in their own special way, one common thread, like a rural drying line in summertime, supported them all.

Cereal commercials.

More specifically, sugar cereal commercials.  Delicious, delicious sugar cereal commercials.

Given my propensity for cartoon-watching, it’s no surprise that I would eventually be inspired to write about these high fructose advertisements.  What is a surprise, however, is that it took me about 20 years of gawking (no, not glawking!) at the Trix Rabbit, Anthony “Tony” The Tiger and Toucan Samuel peddling their wares to notice the faux outrage de jure.

See if you can spot it in this illustrative example:

(Top-Secret Hint: check out the title of this post.)

The offending imagery/phraseology comes about 24-25 seconds into the clip.  Here, we see a snapshot of our now-discontinued hero, Cröonchy Stars, alongside several other breakfast items, as well a snapshot into the mindset of the Ad Wizards who came up with this one.

Part of this nutritious breakfast

Question: What does “Part of this nutritious breakfast” mean?

It seems like the narrator is telling us is that the contents of the big, burnt orange box of glowing cardboard is an essential element for healthy living, but that’s not actually the literal claim being made.

The sentence’s operative words: Part of this.  

The “this” is what’s depicted in the photo above.

So far as I can tell, what is actually being implied here is that Cröonchy Stars, the milk-stained product being pushed into the eyeballs of youngsters (who are now oldsters) throughout the nation, is not by itself nutritious.  The real takeaway is that Cröonchy Stars is part of this, a nutritious meal, and only if the rest of the “meal” consists of non-processed food items that are, you know, “actually nutritious.”

(Note: I am assuming that the contents of the class and what’s being poured into the bowl is not soy milk.)

Sadly, being part of a healthy breakfast that otherwise consists of a glass of orange juice, milk, an apple and banana (look behind the milk jug!), and whole grain toast is like being the player who never gets off the bench for the winning team of the World Series.  You still get a championship ring and are not perjuring yourself when you say, under oath, that you are a champion, but that has more to do with logistics and technicalities than it does with your individual contribution to the team.

ALERT!  PREPARE FOR PERFECT ANALOGY!

In that sense, Cröonchy Stars and cereals like it have a lot in common with Alex Ochoa of the 2002 Anaheim Angels.  If you replaced the Cröonchy Stars (sorry, I really, really like typing “Cröonchy Stars”) in that picture with, I don’t know, say, NOTHING, you would still have a nutritious breakfast.  The same holds true for replacing Alex Ochoa in the 2002 World Series with nothing, assuming you could get “nothing” to fly out to left in his only at-bat with his team down 16-4 in the 9th inning.

(Presumably, this is the first and last time Alex Ochoa will ever be compared to a breakfast cereal [though probably not the first time he was compared to something overhyped].)

It is either ironic or fitting that The Swedish Chef, one of Jim Henson’s genius Muppets creations, who communicates via mostly-incomprehensible pseudo-Swedish babble, is the star of this particular commercial.  As it turns out, it’s entirely possible that the chef’s Nordic gibberish and bloviations are less confusing than the plain English claims made by the narrator.

That said, this marketing-speak slight-of-hand is actually quite remarkable.  The child gets his/her positive message (Muppets!  Fun!) and the parent gets theirs (Healthy!) when in fact neither is true.  Post Foods somehow managed to market food as entertainment and processed sugar as fruits, juice and grains!

Brilliant!

Now, I know that criticizing commercials aimed at children might be considered low-hanging fruit of social commentary, but hey, at least fruit, low-hanging or otherwise, is a nutritious way to being your day.

* I still do, but that’s besides the point.

Homer + Monkey Paw o' Doom

Over the last few weeks, I have inexplicably made several references to The Monkey’s Paw, a horror story published in 1902 by W.W. “W-Dot” Jacobs.  The plot — which is brilliantly depicted in season three of The Simpsons (Treehouse of Horror II) — can be summed up by the (alleged) axiom, “Be careful what you wish for.”  In the story, a magic monkey’s paw (is there any other kind?), which has the power to grant any wish, gives the pleading party precisely what they claim to desire, via horrifying means.

It’s true:  We should be careful what we wish for.

One monkey’s paw wish we’ve all been granted is the sudden and ever-increasing number of “self-checkout” stations at grocery stores, convenience stores, and ever-present (in DC, at least) soft-serve yogurt shops/shoppes.  We wished that we never again had to rely on an uncaring human behind a cash register or counter, and I can already tell that this isn’t going to end well for any of us.

A few reasons why.

See any employees?

Self-Service is Anti-Consumer: Think about it.  Stores used to provide a service — a employee hired and trained to scan and bag your purchased item — and that employee no longer exists.  They have been replaced by…you!  Of course, you probably have no idea where the barcodes are on common groceries, haven’t memorized (and don’t plan on memorizing) the PLU# for “loose carrots” (btw: 4562), and have no one to complain to when your cheese log rings up at $5.49 instead of on sale at $3.99.

But hey, congratulations on your new part-time job!  Although, I guess it’s more of an unpaid internship.  In any case, I’m sure the shareholders are appreciative of the valuable service you provide.  Keep up the good work!

Furthermore, self-scanners are not actually a convenience.  They often result in transaction times slower than those with a trained cashiers (ever witness a 84 year old woman attempt to purchase one single parsnip?), shift the burden of labor onto the consumer (away from the corporation), and are helping to create an environment where we are lulled into a new expectation that store employees are not immediately available to assist with questions/problems.

We are on our own.

So, no, self-service scanners are not provided as “a convenience to you.”  The devices are marketed well enough so that we assume Safeway is doing us a favor, but that’s not actually what is happening.  Self-checkout lanes are simply profit machines cranked up and fueled by those of us fumbling to figure out how to pay for two bagels and a bialy from the bakery.  (btw: Even though it is not technically a bagel, a bialy treated the same for the purposes of checking out.)

The future (artist rendering)

Self-Service is Anti-Labor: Since consumers — like you and I — are willing to do the work of low-skill employees, those jobs are simply disappearing.  Poof!  Whereas one employee used to be required for each cash register, the ratio now is as high as we are willing to accept (1:4?  1:6?).

There are those who will point out that eliminating positions will have some kind of trickle-down, positive impact on prices for consumers, but it seems to me that the rise of automation and burden-shifting ultimately does more harm — by keeping wages low (humans competing with machines) and eliminating jobs (humans losing to machines) — than good.  Besides, the belief that corporate savings are “passed onto the consumer” is a bit of a relic.  Unless you are a shareholder, I’d be willing to bet that you won’t see a penny of the the dime you saved on transaction costs.

I concede there is “nothing we can do” to stop our reckless hurtling towards a technocentric, robotic future (computers are already being programmed to complete even the most difficult tasks), but the least we can do is recognize the impact that increasing reliance on machines has on the folks who are required to compete with our digital overlords to-be.  (See: Matrix, The; Terminator, The)

Self-Service is Anti-Social: I once tried to go an entire day without speaking to anyone.  I went through a full day at work (pasted in front of a computer, of course) did my grocery shopping (ipod + self-checkout, of course), and headed home where I chatted with some friends (in front of a computer again, of course) before heading to bed.  It was easy.

Disturbingly easy.

It was so simple, in fact, that I’ve accidentally engaged in a few No Talking To Anyone Days since then.  Oops.  Does anyone think they could go a whole (productive) day without even making eye contact with human being?  It’d be easier than you think.  (Note: You are eliminated from this challenge if you have Aspergers or Aspergerian tendencies.)

It’s not surprising that the rise of self-checkout coincides nicely with the iPoddification of America.  Our cliche morning conversations about weather in the elevator (“It’s a nice day out there.  Too bad it’s Monday!!!!!!!”) have been replaced by an impersonal half-hearted head-nod as one person not-ironically rocks out to Rebecca Black’s Friday and the other listens to a podcast about the correct way to peel a banana.

To that end, we seem to be developing a sense that we should never “have to” talk to another person.  Self-checkout is a metaphor for what is slowly overcoming our society.  That is to say, we are spending an ever-increasing amount time up in our own heads and less time interacting with, you know, actual humans.  (This is not a unique point, but:) In an era where the Internet connects an estimated 28% of the world’s population, we are leading increasingly solitary lives.

It’s amazing what we give up in order to save a few seconds per transaction.

—————–

Epilogue: I recognize that the screed above could have been written upon invention of the ATM, the Drive-Thru, airport check-in kiosks, or any of the other employee-replacing-computer-centric inventions.  However, self-checkout seems different to me in that it actually diminishes the quality of the service received while shifting the physical burden onto us, the consumers.  When you couple these factors with the sizable negative impact self-checkout has on our time spent interacting with other souls, I think we can draw a rather clear line between self-checkout and other inventions like the ATM.

(Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be about the DMV.  “It’s so slow — and can you believe those lines!  They’re so long!” You don’t say!)

An activity is said to be efficient when it is performed “in the best possible manner with the least waste of time and effort.”  And while it’s hard to know when a process is as seamless and efficient as it can be, it is not usually very difficult to tell when things are wildly out of control.

I used to believe that I was obsessed with finding the most efficient way to accomplish whatever is on my agenda.  Eventually, I realized that I am not obsessed with hyper-efficiency so much as I am completely awestruck and depressed when I am required to engage in an ungodly and unapologetically inefficient activity.

Because this topic is so important to me, I have decided to find the most horrifying example of inefficiency in action in our daily lives.  Think of this article as a public service that results in your being painfully aware when you are at the pinnacle of time and energy-wasting.

In other words, misery loves company.

After a great deal of deliberation and countless hours of internal (and external!) monologue, I am proud to declare once and for all that the least efficient process in the universe is grocery shopping.

(I believe this is where, if this were a live conversation, at least half of you would loudly declare, “But I like grocery shopping, jerk!”  That’s fine!  Really, it is.  I’m not trying to make a value judgment here, only point out that there’s a lot of wasted energy taking place between the fruits and veggies in the front of the store and the dairy section in back.)

So what makes grocery shopping so groce-ly (!) inefficient?

Why, because of the NUTs, of course!

Number of
Unnecessary
Touches

For this discussion to work, let’s first assume the following is true (or true enough for these purposes): In an ideal world, the first time we touch a useful object should also be the last time the object remains unused.  At least at the consumer level, this is the most efficient way of operating.

(BEWARE: FIRST GRADE MATH AHEAD!)

We can calculate the number of unnecessary touches (“NUT”) by adding up the total number of touches and subtracting the last touch (which is the necessary touch, when the item is engaged for its intended purpose).

A classic example of a zero NUT (“no waste ideal”) situation takes place when you purchase a hotdog from a vendor at a baseball stadium.  The transaction is simple: you hand the vendor 300 dollars in cash (inflation!) and they hand you one of the worst hotdogs you have ever eaten (in under five seconds).

Only one touch, one necessary touch.  This means that there are zero unnecessary touches: 1 total touches minus 1 necessary touch equals zero NUT!

See?

Now let’s consider the example of a soup can at a grocery store.  How many times is the can handled before the last, necessary touch (when the soup is opened/consumed)?

Let’s follow journey of a can purchased by an average supermarket shopper:

Touch 1: Pick up can of soup in SOUP AND BAKING GOODS aisle.
Touch 2: Put can of soup in shopping cart.
Touch 3: Put can of soup on conveyor belt for cashier to scan.
Touch 4:
Put can of soup in shopping bag.
Touch 5
: Put can of soup back in shopping cart (bagged).
Touch 6: Place can of soup (bagged) in trunk of car.
Touch 7: Take can of soup (bagged) from trunk of car and place on kitchen counter.
Touch 8: Take can of soup out of bag and place directly on kitchen counter.
Touch 9: Put can of soup in appropriate kitchen storage location.
Touch 10: ACTUALLY USE CAN OF SOUP FOR ORIGINAL INTENDED PURPOSE

This means that the average consumer must handle the can of soup a full ten times before actually enjoying any soup-y goodness.  In this case, NUT = 9 (10 total touches minus 1 necessary touch).

One can of soup provides some insight into this inefficiency problem, but now let’s multiply the NUT by the number of items purchased on a given shopping expedition.

On my last “trip” (aren’t trips supposed to be fun?) to the grocery store, I bought about 30 items. Thirty items times nine (the NUT coefficient) equals two hundred and seventy actions over and above ideal efficiency.  That means the total NUT for my trip will be 270, a number signifying a high degree of inefficiency.

How do we know 270 denotes a “high degree of inefficiency”?  Simple.  Imagine your mother calls you up on the phone and asks you to do 270 pointless things.  That seems like a lot, doesn’t it?

Of course, any time you are purchasing goods that you are not immediately consuming, you are going to find yourself with a NUT higher than zero (and thus, not engaged in idealized efficient behavior).  But the grocery store provides a unique opportunity to participate in a spectacularly inefficient process dozens of times in the same location!

And that is why grocery shopping is the least efficient process in the universe.

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