Good Taste vs. Good Tasting

Ever notice how much better the Ronzoni macaroni is a Hannaford compared to Shaw’s? And isn’t their Hellman’s mayonnaise is just a bit creamier? And you’ve got to admit that there is something special about the Tropicana orange juice at Hannaford that isn’t there at Shaw’s.

You don’t?

Or do you? Because it seems that Portland’s own Shaw’s has fallen into the second tier of supermarkets. The other day I was at a neighborhood meeting and several people bemoaned the local Shaw’s in favor of the slightly distal Hannaford. Then I heard that a carless friend who lives near the Shaw’s takes a bus all the way to a Hannaford in Westbrook.

Call me a rational actor but this all seems a matter of minutiae.

I shop where I do for price, proximity to my home, availability of goods (i.e., “ethnic items which the big markets don’t stock), and expediency of the experience. On this last point I have little patience for wending through a large store and waiting in a long line. What’s more, my supermarket shopping list is pretty limited: onions, cabbage, canned tomatoes, frozen spinach, ketchup and a few other basics. There are probably several more factors that go into my choice of store but I’m quite sure that store ambience rates very low. Nevertheless, ambience is probably the single most distinguishing characteristic of what makes one store “better” than another.

As such, the hierarchy of Portland supermarkets goes something like this:

Whole Foods
Trader Joe’s
Paul’s Food Center

Sure folks will cite the produce, the deli, and the fish counter as reasons to justify their choices, but is that really what’s at play? It sounds to me like snobbery, and lame snobbery at that, because I’ve seen wilted, nasty, or just plan mediocre foods at the premier supermarkets at boutique markets as well. And has anyone tried the prepared foods at Paul’s? A lot of it is pretty good (I like their carrot cake especially),

Wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear someone say:

“I shop at ______ because I like the way the produce looks under warm incandescent lights instead of bleak fluorescents.”

“I prefer supermarkets where the cashiers have college degrees, especially from small liberal arts colleges, it makes me feel better about my unused MA in sociology.”

“I’m afraid to cook out of fear of failure so I shop at a store which is mostly given over to prepared foods.”

It seems to be that paying more for the same food is a way to distinguish oneself as a connoisseur, but really seems more an attempt at elitism. Which is understandable, because the whole process of schleping to the grocery store can be somewhat undignified.

Zack Barowitz

About Zack Barowitz

Zack Barowitz is a writer, artist, and flâneur. He is the radio host of "This Land Is" on WMPG Tuesday nights at 7:30. His work can be seen at