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Time For War: I’m Ranking Supermarket Chains

LIVERMORE, CA - JULY 18: A Safeway customer browses in the fruit and vegetable section at Safeway's new "Lifestyle" store July 18, 2007 in Livermore, California. Safeway unveiled its newest Lifestyle store that features numerous organic and natural foods as well as expanded produce, meat, seafood and floral departments. The store also offers freshly made desserts and baked goods, a coffee roaster, a fresh nut bar and wine section with over 2,000 wines, some of which are stored in a climate controlled wine cellar. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And buy Drew’s book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we're talking about sliced condiments, toilet seat covers, slow motion overkill, farts, and more.

Your letters:

Alex:

My girlfriend and I have been at loggerheads over our preferred grocery stores. She thinks Publix is the be-all-end-all, and I maintain Wegman’s is the best grocery chain in America. Who is right?

You’re entering treacherous waters here amigo, because the people who ride for Publix will never un-ride for it. I have heard more about Publix chicken tender subs from my Twitter feed than I have about Trump. This is not a complaint, mind you. I’d much rather spend my day thinking about tasty sandwiches. The point is that you don’t wanna fuck with Publix fans, especially if they’re from Florida. They might be armed.

As for me, I have patronized both Publix and Wegmans and liked both more than my daily rotation of stores. Publix’s key lime pie is the best key lime pie I’ve ever had. Meanwhile, the hot bar at Wegmans paralyzed me with its endless, tasty offerings. But neither has a location near me (any store that’s more than five miles away counts as not near me in my book), and so I can only admire them from afar. A pity.

Grocery chains exist less in a strict ranking than they do tiers, including Specialty Gourmet (Balducci’s), High End (Whole Foods, although less so now that Amazon owns it), Normal (Safeway), and Trader Joe’s. But I’m gonna go ahead and rank the chains that I know of, just so that you can yell at me about it.

A quick note: I’m not gonna factor in the parking situations of any of these places, and I’m gonna leave out certain regional chains that I’ve never shopped at, with Texas’s widely beloved H-E-B being the most glaring omission. Commenters will help fill in the other blanks, and will do so forcefully. I’m also not including big box stores that sell groceries, like Target and Walmart, because I don’t feel like it.

  1. H-Mart. I love going to H-Mart more than I love going to certain cities. I get fucking FIRED up for an H-Mart run, and so does my 11-year-old. The boy will do chores specifically so that he can get a trip to H-Mart as a reward. He gets it.
  2. Publix. Strictly based on that pie.
  3. Wegmans. They’re building one near me, but every Wegmans is so big I’m almost intimidated by the prospect of shopping there routinely. Also I’m still laboring under the assumption that Wegmans is inordinately expensive when inflation has rendered every grocery store pricier than fucking Saks.
  4. Whole Foods. Again, not gonna factor in the parking situation. Also—and this is true for the next store on the list as well—there are a few routine brand name items on my list (Cheetos, Philly cream cheese, Advil) that my Whole Foods doesn’t stock, which means I have to go on a second grocery run to supplement the first one there. In an effort to avoid that bonus errand, I have unwittingly bought vegan cream cheese from Whole Foods on at least one occasion. It’s not an improvement.
  5. Trader Joe’s. Trader Joe’s is, in general, for people who don’t cook. I go the TJ’s because I need a quality frozen dinner, or because I need good snacks. But for everyday groceries, it’s often worthless. Also their frozen fish is awful.
  6. Balducci’s. There are people who uses places like Balducci’s/Zabar’s/Citarella as their regular-ass grocery store, and that always shorts my circuits. Even if I had a billion dollars, I’d be scared shitless to hit a Balducci’s just because I need pancake mix.
  7. Harris Teeter. A little over a decade ago, I considered Harris Teeter to be THE grocery store. I’d come back from a run and tell my wife, “Oh my God, they have such good fish there! And soup!” I’m more learned now. It’s just a grocery store. Chill out, Drew.
  8. Giant/Stop & Shop (they’re owned by the same company and are essentially the same store). I have given so much of my money to Giant over the past two decades that it makes me weep. It has what I need it to have, and I love using the self-scanner gun. But the produce is dogshit and they don’t sell the Plentifull almond butter cereal anymore, so they must answer for all of that.
  9. Aldi. Aldi is its own beast, but I enjoy going there to save a bit of cash by stocking up on boxes of Count Rockula and bags of Herschel’s Syrup.
  10. Weis. I went here while on vacation once and found it unobjectionable.
  11. Food Lion. Same deal, but a little bit shabbier. Good prices, though.
  12. Food Emporium. New York City has its own ecosystem of mob-run grocery store chains that all charge you $8 for a not-family-sized box of Corn Flakes. Food Emporium is the worst of the bunch because, from the outside, it LOOKS like some high-end shit. Then you go in and drop $300 on items that are just a tick above Key Foods and Gristedes in terms of quality.
  13. Safeway. Honestly, I’m only doing these rankings to dump on Safeway, because fuck Safeway. It’s hideously overpriced, its lines move about as quickly as the Democratic party does, its private label food is crap, its chicken comes in needlessly cumbersome packaging, its aisles are laid out badly, and no one is ever around to help you find anything. I’d rather buy candy from a stranger than at Safeway, and I have.

A quick postscript: During the Great Blackout of 2003 in New York, I went into a Gristedes that was so short on staff, they hadn’t cleared out the meat aisle while the power had been down for hours on end. I’ll never forget that smell, even though I’d like to.

John:

In my late 30s, after 15 years with my wife, we're getting a divorce. Ignoring all of the messy details, I've had several friends ask me about when I'm going to start dating, and two of them immediately told me I needed a makeover. I'm a dad of four, and I clearly look like it, right down to the ugly fleece jackets and New Balance in several colors. Part of me thinks it'd be disingenuous to start wearing new clothes. But a larger part of me agrees that the prospects of convincing a woman to sleep with me will dwindle once they see how I carry myself. So do I need a totally new wardrobe, or should I be myself? Also, what are men my age supposed to wear?

Here’s another line of questioning where the Defector commenters are more likely to be of assistance than me. But my gut instinct is that yes, you should clean up a bit. You don’t need an entirely new wardrobe; all you need are a few new going-out pieces that help make a good first impression: some attractive pants/shirts/shoes, etc. You shouldn’t show up to dinner in Adam Sandler’s golf muumuu, and I think you know that. You should look nice. But, given your age and your status as a divorcee with kids, you don’t have to come off like some 25-year-old playboy out on the dating scene. Women kinda know the deal with you already, and likely you them. You guys don’t have to fool each other as much anymore. You don’t have to engage in the same song-and-dance that you did 15 years ago. You can be realer, which means you can dress a little realer. Just don’t look like shit.

As for what to wear, I’m partial to Levi’s 512 jeans (the result of actual pants research I did for GQ!) and any nice collared shirt on sale at the Nordstrom Rack (or whatever upscale off-price store is near you, and by “upscale” I mean not Marshalls or TJ Maxx). But do you own homework. Take yourself shopping. Try stuff on. Ask a trusted friend to come with so they can give you an honest opinion on new items. They’ll know what’s you and what isn’t, and that’s more valuable than anything I can tell you here.

Mick:

We've all tried to do the Van Damme split at least once in our lives, right?

Yes although I didn’t try THAT hard. When it comes to attempting splits, I know when I’m approaching the danger zone, and I don’t get anywhere near it.

Sharon:

So this coworker started berating me—berating me—for referring to my lunch as “salade niçoise” because I’d left out the olives. There was more in the fridge at home, and if the hubs texted me asking what was for supper, wouldn’t “salad nicoise” give him a better idea about what he’d be forking into that night?

And then, at a dinner, several family members got into a lather over a local eatery calling one of their pasta dishes “Fettuccine Alfredo” because they’d added a bit of garlic to the recipe. "You CAN’T call it fettuCHEEnee alFRAYdo if there’s garlic." Is there merit to these martinets’ umbrage? How far is too far when it comes to iconic dishes and their ingredients? 

This is all Chopped’s fault. Mislabel your dish in front of the judges on that show and they will fucking BURY you. But this is America. Appropriating and bastardizing other people’s food is what we do best. It’s what makes America America, dammit. AJ McCarron knows what I’m talking about. So it’s one thing for you to throw together a kit salad, dump a can of Bumblebee into it, and tell everyone you’re spiritually from Lyon. That makes you an idiot. It’s another to leave out one stupid ingredient from your nicoise—an ingredient that I don’t even like—and have everyone accuse you of being Hitler. It’s a stupid office lunch. Who gives a fuck what you call it? Call it Baked Alaska if you want. No one else should give a crap. If they do, they’re fucking weird. Tell them to stop acting like they’re on Twitter.

Isaac:

Am I the weird one for not using a paper toilet seat cover in a public stall? Yes, this was sent from the stall.

I’ve never used a toilet seat cover. All it would do it stick to my clammy buttcheeks while I’m trying to squeeze out a dump, so no thank you to that. Also, a cursory Google search reveals that toilet seat covers do absolutely nothing to reduce your chances of infection. I have done my business in just about every kind of bathroom you can think of—bathrooms located in locker rooms, hotels, train stations, bus stations, schools, libraries, offices, Italy, public parks, port-a-potties, restaurants, airplanes, airports, disgusting bars, stranger’s houses, and everywhere else in between—and I’ve never accidentally sat on a used hypodermic needle or contracted rectal plantar warts from having my butt touch a bare toilet seat. And no one would describe me as unbreakable otherwise. So never use those things. They’re pointless.

Bryan:

How many people do you think watch an episode of The Cosby Show in a given day now? It’s no longer broadcast and pretty much scrubbed from the internet so it would have to be people who already owned the DVDs I guess. Do people still watch it? 

All streaming services have memory-holed The Cosby Show, but you can still find whole episodes of it sitting on YouTube, or you can likely watch them on your pirate stream of choice. And if that show can be watched anywhere, then yes, people will watch it. Do you know how many Bill Cosby apologists are out there? Do you know how many of them are willing to binge-watch that show as a political act? Likely thousands, if not more. Fucking Ben of Ben’s Chili Bowl probably does this every day.

I’ve become a stringent separate-the-art-from-the-artist advocate of late, but that’s extremely hard to do with comedians, who are in many ways their own art. I grew up when The Cosby Show was the dominant force in television. We got to watch it every Thursday night as a treat, and I loved it. Why wouldn’t I have? It was a great show. Even better was Cosby’s standup material, because he might have been the most gifted storyteller to ever grace a stage. I had Bill Cosby: Himself memorized, and still do. Same deal with “To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With,” which is probably the greatest and truest bit of standup I’ve ever listened to. My youngest one wants to be a standup when he grows up, and God he could learn a lot about the art form from hearing all of Cosby’s stage material. But I’d never show it to him. That’s a touch hypocritical given that I’ll let him listen to pretty much any Michael Jackson song he wants, but we’ve reached a point where rewatches are endorsements when it comes to Cosby, who was a serial rapist. So that’s where I draw my squishy little line. But I’d be lying if I said I don’t sometimes still think of his work fondly, or if I said I didn’t miss it just a little. Fucking Cosby. What a prick.

HALFTIME!

Adam:

Would you agree that, if possible, a guy should always grow facial hair so that if he ever MUST commit a horrible crime, even unexpectedly, he has something to shave off afterwards to disguise himself? I think that's just smart.

OK but what if I just grow out a beard after I’ve become a fugitive instead? Yes I’d need some time for that beard to sprout, but still. I could hide out in a septic tank while it’s growing or something. Tell me that wouldn’t be just as effective!

Bryan:

Let's say you're a single young man out in the dating world. You meet an astonishing woman: gorgeous, kind, empathetic, funny, with almost all the same interests and values as you. However, this woman is 100% OBSESSED with The Big Bang Theory. As in, she owns all the DVDs, rewatches them constantly, brings the show up in conversation, goes to cons, wears Bazinga! t-shirts and the like. Do you, CAN you, pursue a relationship with this individual? 

Sure I can. If your list of dealbreakers includes something that petty, you will die alone. Besides, you’re talking to a guy who watched the entire run of Everybody Loves Raymond and thought that The King of Queens was one of the better comedies on network TV this century. I bet TBBT is a perfectly tolerable show. I might even enjoy it despite myself. And even if I didn’t, I wouldn’t write off my dream girl just because she was into it. I’ve been married for 20 years. I don’t like a lot of the shit my wife watches, and vice versa. She hates football. I hated Inventing Anna. It doesn’t matter. We’re supposed to be different people, as is any couple. Now if my wife were a Packers fan, I’d leave her on the side of the road to die. But that’s a different matter.

To that end, my youngest is heavy into Young Sheldon now. When he told me the news, I was a little taken aback, but A) It’s a harmless sitcom, and B) He’s 11. I watched WAY worse shit when I was that age, Head of the Class included. And over the course of fatherhood, I’ve endured some of the shittiest Disney and Nick Jr. sitcoms that any man could ever sit through. They did not ruin my kids, and Young Sheldon is almost certainly a qualitative leap above, like, Jessie. So I can deal. Now if my son was like, “Dad, I love Barstool!”… again, a different matter.

Tim:

Have you noticed how much slow-motion is used on TV nowadays? I think it is a lazy way to make something mundane look dramatic. It’s really prevalent on sports broadcasts, but other shows are doing it now, too. I’ve even seen it used on promos for the local TV news. They showed the anchors walking in slow motion on the news set.

Oh I love the slo-mo walk for your local news team, like fucking Mr. Pink is your weatherman. Nobody fucks with Doris Hanfield and the 11 o’clock news squad.

As for slo-mo in general, I need it in sports for obvious reasons. But yes, in scripted series, it’s best used in small doses. Especially in dramas. When I about the best TV shows I’ve ever seen—The Sopranos, The Wire, Severance, Succession, etc.—none of them used slow motion, because they didn’t need to. The drama was inherent in the moment; it didn’t need to be telegraphed using a common filmmaking gimmick. Comedies like The Simpsons and Curb have more leeway, often because they use slo-mo either for the sake of irony or to draw out a gag. But otherwise, I think of slow-motion the same way I think of somber musical montages: it’s all padding. It’s filling time with footage that looks dramatic but usually isn’t. Write a better script and you don’t need to do that.

Also, I see slow motion used in a lot of action sequences because they spent $75,000 on a stunt and wanna get their money’s worth out of it. But if you’ve ever seen a movie like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, you know that a real-time explosion is more than enough to get viewers excited.

Luke:

I found out this morning that Japan now has sliced mayonnaise, which is horrifying on several different levels. However, I wondered what other condiments might better utilized for this technology. When making a toasted sandwich, I think an even coating of Woebler's Sandwich Pals Sweet and Spicy Mustard would really speed up the process of making lunch in the morning. But the possibilities are endless!

Yeah, mustard slices would come in handy. Or gochujang. Any condiment where I want a modest amount spread evenly across the sandwich is worthy of slice technology consideration. Ketchup doesn’t enter into the equation for this, because I put enough ketchup on my burger to flood a small Massachusetts town. It horrifies my family, among other witnesses.

By the way, lemme use this moment to clarify my mayo hatred. I don’t really care if mayo is used as an ingredient in a greater whole. People are like, “Drew, you’ll be horrified to learn that the Portillo’s chocolate cake has mayo in it!” I don’t care. I can’t taste the mayo in that cake, know what I mean? It’s like how I don’t eat raw flour, but will gladly eat it when mixed with everything else that goes into cookie dough. It’s when I have to taste the mayo itself that I will kill you all. Thank you for listening.

Patricia:

Does anyone call their grandparents Grandma and Grandpa anymore? My theory is everyone is in denial about their kids being old enough to spawn, and the quickest way to tag someone as old is to call them Grandma and Grandpa, so they make up cutesy names.

Yep, that sounds about right. No grandpa or grandma wants to feel like they’re that old, so they go with Boobo or whatever else instead. Neither my parents nor my in-laws go by “grandma” or “grandpa.” As a result, people confuse them for being thirtysomething all the time. True story.

Ian:

Suppose you're told out of the blue that you're going to be knighted. It's the real deal. British knight. You'll be Sir Drew. The King himself will preside over the ceremony. But it's going to cost you. How much would you spend of your own personal money?

Nothing. I don’t care, and I’m an Anglophile, mind you. Knighthood is worthless unless you get to ride a steed, wield a broadsword, and kill people. Without that, it’s just an honorary degree conferred upon you by some toothless inbred.

Brian:

Just walked into the work bathroom to see someone with one hand up on the wall, the other holding their junk. I kind of get it if you're drunk or something, but we're talking 11am on a Tuesday. What causes people to do this?

Wait, is that not considered normal? I do that shit all the time! First of all, it gets my dick closer to the urinal/toilet to prevent strays. Secondly, it’s relaxing. I’m in the bathroom. It’s my shelter from a cruel world. Why wouldn’t I rest my hand on the wall to take full advantage of this little respite? It also helps ward off stagefright, if I’m being honest. My arm is not just an arm, it’s a partition. You can’t even tell I’m in the bathroom when I disguise myself in such a manner.

Mitch:

There was a brief mention of Rod Roddy on the latest episode of the Distraction and it is, of course, an extremely familiar reference for our generation. Watching The Price Is Right was a key part of summer vacation for us, not because we loved it but because it was the only thing on during a time when we’d normally be at school. We all watched it. But my kids are on summer vacation and neither one of them watches The Price Is Right. I don’t think they even know what it is. They have too many other options. I’m not actually going to lament the loss of a shared ritual or whatever, I’m just curious: when exactly do you think watching this show went out of style?

The second smartphones and iPads were invented. You think I watched Sale of the Century on sick days as a child because I liked it? Ich don’t think so.

Email of the week!

Andrew:

I was in high school and I went on a school trip to D.C. for something called Presidential Classroom. My high school was run by Nazis, so I relished the chance to get the hell outta there. So we're doing our tours of the Capitol and White House and all that good stuff. At one point we got to sit in on a congressional hearing. And this was a real hearing: television cameras everywhere, microphones, and LOTS of people. It was packed. I don't remember what the hearing was for, but it must have been something important because there weren't any seats left when I got in. So I was relegated to sitting on the floor with some of my friends.

So we're all sitting on the floor, joking around not paying attention. This is a marble floor. I bet you can see where this is going. You know how when you sit on a wooden bench, your farts are amplified? Well, imagine how much louder it must be on a marble floor in a bigass Congressional chamber. At some point during the event, I let out a fart that could rival any fart ever. I'm talking loud. This fart reverberated around the room like a sonic fucking boom. It was so loud that about half the room looked over at me when it happened. I tried to pass it off by looking at my friend next to me, like he was the one who did it. That didn't work. Everyone in the room knew it was me. It didn't smell and I didn't shart or anything like that, but damnit if it wasn't the loudest fart I've ever released.

You still got more done than Congress that day, AMIRITE?!

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