The incredible $7 cantaloupe

The other night at dinner, I asked our two teenagers how much they thought we spent monthly on food.

“$300?” offered one?

I shook my head. The other took a shot.

“$200?”

Even my wife guessed low.

“$750?”

The correct answer is between $900 and $1,200 — a staggering sum when I reflect on the fact that I’m always agonizing over the shelves of Safeway, making skinflint decisions on what we need versus what we want and can afford. Jen loves cantaloupe, but the one I bought the other day turned out to be nearly $7.

When I saw it rung up at the check-out, I wanted to scream out: “Are you friggin’ kidding me!?? Seven friggin bucks for a $@$% cantaloupe!”

I kept silent, but when I got home I told Jen to be very cautious with this melon. We’ve been known to not getting around to cutting them up, then realized they rotted on the counter right under our noses.

Fresh food, it turns out, is a lot more expensive than stuff in cans and boxes. We tend to buy a lot of the cheap crap at Wal-Mart – the cereal, the cans of peas and boxes of Cheez-Its – because it’s almost always less expensive than at Safeway or City Market. But we don’t think much of the meat or produce at Wal-Mart, so we go to the traditional grocery stores for that stuff.

It’s kind of like shopping for jewelry or electronics. Eyeing a piece of meat labeled at, say, $18, you don’t want to see the slightest blemish or hint of flaw. As Bill Cosby once said of a high-priced hotel room-service egg, “This thing better have an act.”

As gas zips merrily along toward $5 a gallon, it’s almost getting ready to catch up with milk. We decided one thing we would buy organic would be milk, since, we read somewhere, the regular stuff is laced with steroids and radioactive POISON!! Or something. So a gallon of organic milk costs like 6 or 7 bucks a gallon, and the 6-year-old spills it on the floor and wonders why Daddy is trying to get it back into the jug with a squeegee and an eye-dropper. I watch one of the teenagers make a bowl of cereal and dump out the remaining milk and hear myself saying “What the hell are you doing! Don’t you know this stuff is GOLD … liquid gold!?”

One thing I find amusing is to go by the fish counter at the super market and look at the stuff lying  there on the ice that’s $15 or $20 a pound.

“Who buys this stuff?” I wonder, as I try to get close enough to see if anything’s on sale – but not so close that the guy behind the counter asks me if I’d like some help. The only thing remotely affordable is a box of fish sticks, but ever since one of the kids found a tiny piece of scale in one a couple of years ago, they are treated as poison in our household.

I read somewhere the other day that the first batch of Chinook salmon from the Copper River in Alaska are starting to hit the market. This is some tasty fish, but don’t get too excited because due to the salmon shortage (who knew?), it’s $40 a pound.

I’ll just have the tuna sandwich on rye, please.

Families now have to choose between buying fresh food, packaged bad-for-you crap or gas for the SUV that seemed so cool and roomy when it was first purchased.

Tough times, these, when we have to think of the super market as a “food museum” — you can only look at a lot of the stuff, while the things you can afford are like the cheap postcard you get at the gift shop.

To highlight to the kids the value of food nowadays, I fashioned a cantaloupe pedestal from a paper-towel roll, a Funyon and cash-register tape from the grocery store encircling it mummy-fashion.

I think I need to let my wife start doing the shopping. It’s better that I don’t know ….

 

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