Slowly but surely I am becoming good at feeding myself. Eating in the dorms was (perhaps surprisingly) very complex. The decision of where to grab lunch on the Hill almost always involved a series a calculations that included things like the number of stairs on the way to the dining hall, salad bar choices, and the cheeriness of the dining staff; the list goes on. At first, eating in an apartment was anything but complex. Some nights I would find myself eating a pan-fried combination of whatever I had in the fridge (green beans, a slice of provolone cheese, a scrambled egg, hot sauce) that I would assemble in a hurry as my episode of Grey’s Anatomy buffered in my bedroom. Sometimes, if I was feeling especially domestic, I would make actual meals with side dishes and complete proteins. But a carefully crafted and well-planned dinner is still, really, not complex. And the only emotions I found myself experiencing swayed between vacancy and ambivalence. Cooking is fun, sure, but for the first part of summer it lacked spark. It was strangely robotic. And therefore while I was empirically good at nourishing myself, I was having a hard time feeding myself.
But recently I believe I have found the answer to my culinary conundrum. My grocery store. I’ve gone almost exclusively to Trader Joe’s until now and while TJ’s is a lovely alternative to either Whole Foods (too nice) or Ralph’s (not nice enough), something about it didn’t seem right. I think perhaps a big part of it was that during the time I lived on the Hill, Trader Joe’s was my safe haven. I would take bi-monthly treks into Westwood to forage around the snack aisles of Trader Joe’s in search of dorm-room treats. I waddled back to campus with bags full of pistachio-laden chocolates and peanut butter-filled pretzels. And each trip left me with a fierce sense of accomplishment. But now shopping at Trader Joe’s with a certain regularity has begun to make me feel alienated. While during freshman and sophomore year I consistently crowded the free sample counters, I now avoid it almost every trip. I rarely buy snacks and instead fill my cart with lots of veggies, lunch meats, and boxes of almond milk. But that’s not what Trader Joe’s is for! I like going there to buy food that isn’t quite food, more of a cute, surreal treat (where else can you buy multicolored candy-coated sunflower seeds?). And now buying real food is freaking me out.
A couple of blocks past Wilshire on Westwood Blvd sits the solution to my dilemma: a nice but not too nice grocery store called Sprouts. Having never stepped foot in a Sprouts before just a couple of weeks ago, the novelty of it is thrilling. I’m not constantly berated by reminders of the empty calories I consumed as a lowerclassman in the form of Trader Joe’s brand snicky snacks, and the store itself is spectacular. You can buy vegetables that aren’t shrink-wrapped or already pre-washed and sealed in plastic bags (which is all that I found myself buying lately). The selection offers you a much wider variety of things to make for dinner, and each aisle is filled with fun, new, exciting Sprouts brand things to try. But the best part isn’t even the great food. It is absolutely that now the process of “going to the store” is exciting. It’s complex. I have to time my shopping trips around the rush hour traffic that manifests over the course of the 8-block drive. I see new faces with every visit – true Westwooders and not just UCLA students and the few adults who live among us in the small area surrounding campus. I mean I’ve only been a couple times, but the change of pace has been thrilling. I have a renewed energy for cooking, and feeding myself in an apartment is now starting to be more fun than eating on the Hill was. A new grocery store is exactly what I needed to (quite literally) spice up my life.