A finicky guy's exploits in finding gustatory (and other) satisfaction in his kitchen, his neighborhood, and beyond.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

And now: a public service announcement

I just got back from Whole Foods. . .where my shopping was Wholly Foolish. What went wrong?

I know enough to eat something hearty before going to the grocery store, because my internal hunter-gatherer becomes indiscriminate when he's hungry. If I have an appetite, every densely caloric treat in the store looks like a good idea, and soon, my cart is overflowing with marginally necessary items like breads, cakes, cheeses, beers, and snack foods.
Where did I learn this wisdom? Believe it or not, on TV. I still recall vividly a public service announcement from the Armed Forces Network (AFN) that was broadcast frequently in the 1980s on the U.S. military bases throughout Europe, where I was stationed. Its catchy rap-style tag line went, "Don't shop when you're hungry — no, no, no!"   I couldn't find this gem on Youtube, but I was able to find a clip containing other spots from that era, just so you'll know I'm not making this up.

To make soldiers stationed in Europe feel more at home during their tours of duty abroad, AFN would broadcast a selection of American TV shows daily.  We got an assortment of whatever the networks were willing to part with cheaply — not always the best shows.  We were never treated to a single episode of "Seinfeld" in my memory, but we did get "Dinosaurs" and "Small Wonder."   I couldn't bring myself to watch these losers, but I did get hooked on what seemed to us like good stuff: "Sisters," "Life Goes On," and "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air," among others.  Actually, we got a mostly watchable variety of shows including news magazines, sitcoms, game shows, talk shows, and dramas, which did help to ease the homesickness that occasionally set in.

What we didn't get was commercials.  During the breaks in programming, where TV stations back home would play commercials for soda, laundry powder, and eye shadow, we got bombarded with advice.  How to shop intelligently, how to conserve energy, how to avoid pissing off the locals, how to be a good soldier, how to avoid excessive gambling and drinking, how to refrain from abusing your spouse and children, how to drive safely, how to obtain a passport for your foreign-born kids, how to prevent sunburn, how to control yourself when you want to shake your baby.  I'm not kidding — on any of these counts.

All this counsel became mind-numbing to those of us who already knew not to shake our babies.  But it was hard to look away from the bad acting, low-budget production values, and moralizing right out of a Victorian sermon.  These "commercials," as we referred to them, were often more (inadvertently) hilarious than the SNL skits they were shown between.  I guess I watched a lot of TV back then, because I recall having seen certain "popular" public service spots literally hundreds of times, the Don't-Shop-When-You're-Hungry one included.  (I wish whole-heartedly that I could treat you to a clip of the Energy Rapper:

"I'm the energy rapper
And I'm here today
Telling people in the Army what I got to say
Turn it off 
Turn it down
Cause it's coming around
When the energy's gone
There'll be none to be found."

That was an approximation of his "song."  But so far, he's not on Youtube.)

I still literally hear the rhythmic chant, "Don't shop when you're hungry — no, no, no!" whenever I enter a grocery store with even a low-grade hunger brewing, which isn't often, because of my prior brainwashing education as an AFN viewer.  I err now only when I have to do a grocery shopping right after a gym workout, which is occasionally unavoidable because of my schedule, and often tempting because of the proximity of WF (my store) and DBG (my gym).  But mostly, I am able to plan my shopping excursions to occur during periods of relative satiety.

Indeed, today I shopped right after breakfast.  I had no appetite at all at the store.  So why did I come home with 2 kinds of bread, 2 big blocks of cheese (the cheese-ends basket was empty), a bottle of beer, sausages, snapper filets, cacao nibs, gnocchi, tamales, and apricot jam?  (And how did that bunch of celery get in there?  I must have meant to pick up deep-fried chocolate-covered celery and reached for the plain by mistake.)

If AFN is listening, I have a recommendation for a new public service ad theme: "Don't shop when you don't need anything — no, no, no!"  I'd already done a huge shopping at WF on Wednesday, so I had no business being back there today.  We were lowish on eggs, though, and I used that as my excuse to go to the store.  I didn't intend to buy much; in fact, I took only one shopping bag with me.  But I managed to stuff that one bag up to the brim with $68.92 worth of fattening and expensive and completely superfluous items.

Isn't it great?


  1. Loved the post. Been there...done this. The good news is that you are very resourceful and imaginative with your meals so none of it will go to waste.

  2. :) What interesting stories about being posted to Europe. I really want to hear that "Don't shop when you're hungry - No No No" PSA!

  3. I always have to have a plan when I go shopping, also. It's amazing the junk I buy without a plan-or when I'm hungry. My family laughs, though, when we go to a different part of the world, I always want to go to the grocery. I'm fascinated by all the interesting things you can find in someone elses grocery store.

  4. You simply have an unconcious premonition of a party, you need to invite a bunch of people over and have a cheese fondue, where you dip the breads and sausage and celery (perhaps the gnocci?) in two kinds of cheese sauce, all washed down with beer.

    Perhaps hold a posable vinyl figurine collectors get-together.

  5. I feel your pain with the shopping while hungry and shopping when I just need milk but come out with 15 things... anyway, I'm sure you've been informed by others that AFN is still pumping out those puppies. :-) They've added "learn a little German so you don't sound like a total doofus every time you go out to eat" and "don't sexually harass your coworkers" to the mix, too!

  6. I shopped yesterday because the pantry was bare. $300+ later … ouch! But, really, it's all stuff we NEEDED. My husband really needs the ice cream (both flavors), my son really needs the 3 bags of chips and micro meals for lunches. And I needed the … hmmm. What did I get for just me? Oh, right. Nothing. Unless you count bread flour or my Diet Coke addiction. But I only grocery shop every 2+ weeks so it's not quite as shocking as it seems. I hope. My fridge, freezer and pantry are full, so I'm set for cooking in for a while. That's what I got for me. :-)

    I'll have to tell my son to look out for the "commercials" and report back. He's still in school so he may not get blasted with them for a while yet.

  7. Those advertisements sound really useful. Not enough people know those important things, unfortunately. Wouldn't it be good if, every time a business wanted to advertise doing something that was not a good idea like for example drinking Coke, they had to buy an ad for something that was a good idea, like for example controlling yourself when you want to shake your baby.

  8. Mae, your idea is brilliant! It reminds me of the concept of "green points," or whatever they're called: when your vacation plans are injurious to the planet — e.g. flying in airplanes, which use huge amounts of fossil fuel — you contribute a proportional amount of money to an Earth-friendly cause to help counteract the damage.

    But let's make it a requirement for the corporations to allocate similar amounts of talent and funding to the public service message as to their commercial messages. The AFN spots were (at least in the 80s) so infuriatingly badly written, performed, and produced that they made me want to go out and shake the first person I encountered.

  9. @Debbie: Your assignment for this week is to put at least one thing in your shopping cart for you and you alone. You deserve to benefit from some of your own generosity, which you give so freely to all the rest of us.


  10. Great post Michael! I had to laugh at the mention of AFN and no commercials! My SIL and daughter are stationed over in the UK and when she comes home to visit she loves the commercials because they don't have them! I have to admit when we visited them that the AFN spots were rather annoying!

  11. "Your assignment for this week …"

    I'm guessing you haven't seen my fabric closet. ;-)

  12. The question is: did you buy the eggs?

    I enjoyed this post a lot, and would like to add something to it, but I don't know what that would be, so I won't. Just so you know I enjoyed it.

  13. Ha ha — good question! Yes, at least I did buy the eggs that were my excuse for shopping. (You will be happy to know that I was able to control myself today and did NOT return to Whole Foods. Yet......)

  14. I remember the exact cartoon commercial you're talking about. "Don't shop when you're hungry - no no no!"
    The tune rings in my head every time I'm at the supermarket.