Friday, August 7, 2009

The economy, the market, and me


By BETTY BELL

"I bet this gal is as straightforward as an egg, sunny-side up"—that's what I'd be thinking you'd be thinking had we shared a check-out line at the market. But that was before the economy dived and took my sunny side with it.

Even as an optimist, I was subject to brief bouts of furtiveness that usually came upon me in the market as I prepared to select a loaf of bread—a multi-grain that's not the most pricey, but pricier than Eddy's.

I'd feel compelled to look in the bag's window to make sure it was multi-grain in there and not a simulated French. There's nothing furtive about this, but I'd turn furtive when I ran my hand along the length of the loaf to find out how formidable a ridge ran along the top. Unlike Eddy's, fancier breads have ridges that vary greatly. I'd have to be furtive about my ridge-check because nearby shoppers seemed to get nervous and twitchy if they saw me checking—I suppose it looked like I was fondling the loaf even though I always kept my hand outside the bag.

Round loaves don't have ridges. When a festive occasion calls for a festive bread—say olive, that comes in the round—I wouldn't be furtive. I'd simply grab a loaf as straightforwardly as you'd expect. But with long loaves like multi-grain, ridges matter. If I'd forget the ridge-check I'd likely end up with a full-length ridge as big as the Grand Canyon. When I'd take my knife to such a loaf the slices looked like graphs of a wild Wall Street day. You couldn't even make decent-looking peanut butter sandwiches with them.

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It was because of my furtive ridge-check that I discovered how dear bread has become. But it hasn't been a straightforward change in the price tag that one can see and ponder. Nope. Mama, they shrunk the loaf. I used to ridge-check by running my hand all along the top. Now all I have to do is lay my hand there same as I do Pearl's head, my old dog, and I get the picture. The loaves are so shrunken I dared not slice straight across as was my wont. If I don't cut diagonally, the slices would be just right for a formal tea party should such an occasion ever arise.

Two-way furtiveness—by both customer and supplier—sent me plummeting into full furtive mode every time I shop for life's necessities. Consider pretzels and chips and such. I'd thought the switch to reverse airbags—stand back when you pop a seal—was solely to preserve freshness. Not so. What bigger-than-party-balloon bags do is make us think we're getting more than we're getting. These bags take up so much shelf space that my preferred Rold Gold stick pretzels are often aced out in favor of the old-fashioned three-ringers they had when I was little. Take time to notice—associates have to zip around in double-time like the old silent movies just to keep product on the shelves.

Most of life's necessities now cost more, big-time-more, and it isn't just once in a while that the up-tics are furtive. Consider canned tomatoes. Being always in full furtive mode, I wasn't surprised when I checked the contents and found that cans that once held l pound, 14 ounces are down to l pound, 12 ounces. It matters. When I make a batch of the excellent spaghetti sauce described on page 122 in my bridal-days Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, it calls for a 1 pound, 14 ounce can. If I don't spend extra shekels for another smaller can, the sauce is thick enough to slice.

Regrettably, the economic dive wrought changes in me, changes that probably show. If again we share a check-out line, I won't be thinking you'll be thinking "egg, sunny-side up."




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