Thursday, January 23, 2014

Ina Garten, Edina Monsoon, and other role models

FreshDirect has arrived in the bustling metropolis where I live, and with it, two $50-off coupons per household. Between the $8 delivery fee, the lower prices on most items than nearby supermarkets, the implicit necessity of tipping, the eliminated need to drive to the store, the reduction in impulse purchases, and the need to reach $125 for the coupon to even kick in, I can't yet tell if this is, like, wise. But it's certainly appealing. It's freezing out, the roads are icy, and strip-mall grocery shopping in New Jersey is something like the opposite of perusing the Raspail organic market in Paris. There are, I suspect, no romantic photos of Ina Garten exchanging banter with someone from the bread department at Wegmans.

It feels very decadent, very Edina Monsoon, having one's groceries brought to one's door, but could well turn out to be the cheaper option.

But what I really can't tell is if it's quicker to choose groceries online or at the store. There's something frustrating yet freeing about not having to physically inspect each onion, when ultimately you're cooking them down regardless and one's as good as the next. So it ought to be quicker. But because you're at home - perhaps with several other windows open with actual work, it can be a procrastinatory sinkhole that, unlike other online shopping, feels deceptively practical.

Practical, that is, until you realize you've had the same FreshDirect window open for the past five hours, going back and forth to it whenever you need to clear your head. Three tomatoes or four? Or is that pounds of tomatoes? How did one tomato just come to over $2? (Actually, that turned out to be a very expensive tomato, which I then removed from the virtual cart.) And which cheese? Is camembert something you can buy sight-unseen? Should I be suspicious that this brand of it costs more everywhere else? When you go to the store, you walk through it and eventually you're at the registers, at which point you know you're done. This way, you enter and never leave. (I have, after several days, submitted the order, and am choosing to ignore the 'modify your order till 5pm' option.)

Drawbacks, then, are the strangely addictive nature of online food-shopping, but also the false promise of NYC-specific treats (striped bass - and all alcoholic beverages - seemed available, but no; dreams of bagels and pastries went unfulfilled), and the let's say Eurocentric aspects of the offerings. Not only is FreshDirect not, understandably, the Japanese supermarket I might want it to be, but rice paper, for example, is not happening. As an alternative, they recommend wax paper or parchment paper or something. The other drawback, of course, is the distinct possibility that with this as an option, and with basically all my work and entertaining these days being couch-compatible, I will never again leave the house.


Michelle said...

Now anticipating the post where you ponder how much to tip the delivery guy/gal (probably a guy, right?)...

Phoebe said...

Not enough material there for a whole post, but here goes: Noting the delivery fee (i.e. not the same as getting restaurant food delivered, which I almost never do, but know requires a major tip) and the message that tips are accepted, I Googled, but there weren't too many examples of locales similar to where I live. No doorman, no stairs, no city. Someone said a dollar per box, which seemed about right, at least for normal enough weather conditions, and on the first of my two $50-off deliveries, I think that's what I went with. Which makes me either a fool or a cheapskate.

Kaleberg said...

How old fashioned. In the 1940s and 1950s, everyone had their groceries delivered. Yes, I've been reading Freda Friedman. All things old are new again.

Phoebe said...

Who's Freda Friedman? Google tells me she's a social worker...

But yes, the milk-bottle delivery, at least, seems rustic. It's probably also rustic to be an adult woman who barely knows how to drive.

fourtinefork said...

A dollar a box?!

My experience with Fresh Direct was when I lived in Brooklyn in an area without a proper grocery store (just ridiculously overpriced bodegas: some fancy, some gross, but none suited to buying ingredients to make full meals as opposed to mere snacks.) Fresh Direct was by far the cheapest option aside from carrying bags from Manhattan on the L train.

My orders came in MANY, many boxes. Like, there would be a box of cereal in one big box. Four yogurts and a milk in another.

I tipped a few bucks for the whole thing. Hmmm. They never seemed upset with me. My eggs never got broken on the next order. If I had tipped a dollar a box, that easily would have been $10-$20 an order. (I wasn't ordering huge amounts of food, either. It was for a single person who didn't eat at home much.) For some people that's not much money, but if I had to budget that in, I would never have used the service.

Now to spend the rest of the afternoon feeling bad about my 2011 tipping habits.

Phoebe said...


Fear not! I believe this was a $3 tip. A dollar a box. Maybe we're defining "a box" differently - like, smaller boxes within a bigger box?

Phoebe said...

Also! (She says, having tipped $5 for the latest, in part because that's what I had, and in part because it's snowing.) Tipping is about guilt. If I feel I'm consuming a luxury, I end up tipping more as a way of punishing myself for being ridiculous. The cappuccino rather than the black coffee, say, even though I know from working as a barista that both are, in their own ways, difficult to prepare.

And I do think this is one function of the tip - it's a reminder that the thing you're doing is not strictly necessary. If you're at all price-sensitive, it's thus a reminder to do the thing in question less often.

Which is why I tend to resent situations where tipping is expected, but no viable alternative exists. I mean, I *have* cut my own hair, but if one wishes to look presentable - forget good - one must go to a place. It's not like a manicure. Also: tip jars in grocery stores.