Yesterday, I made my annual pilgrimage to Sam's Club. I only go once a year to get supplies for my Christmas baking obsession (which I'm sure will be the subject of at least one more post in the coming month), and it always amazes me how much stuff is there and how large it all is. This year, I noticed something new ... many of the other shoppers didn't seem to be buying as a major pantry restock. Instead, they seemed to just be doing their weekly grocery shopping. I didn't see anyone else working off of a list, but many couples were discussing meals for later in the week or saying things like "I know I saw it here last week." despite the fact that you have to buy a big quantity of each item.
This was a huge contrast to visiting London grocery stores last month. Wandering through "locals shop here" stores when I'm traveling is one of my guilty pleasures. (In fact, I make a point of bringing home foreign candy bars for my family when I travel just to have the excuse to look at all of them and love to ponder local slang in signage in other parts of the U.S.) Most London grocery stores are small ... about the size of a convenience store in America and have three staples: prepackaged sandwiches, bakery bins, and veggies. Fruit and meat sections are considerably downsized in proportion, and frozen, canned goods, and pantry items (all staples of the US stores) are minuscule in terms of both shelf space and the size of the packaging. (Convenience stores, in comparison, have the square footage of mall kiosks and carry sweets, prepackaged sandwiches, and bottled drinks.) I did visit larger grocery stores in the outer areas of London on my trip in 2006 - as I was on a quest for packaged crumpets to bring back - and found that the stores were still smaller than I expected based on what locals had told me. The largest package of flour I saw was five pounds. Do Londoners shop that often? Do they live on prepacked sandwiches and restaurant meals?
The one thing that I never saw in a London store was plastic containers to store leftovers. Maybe that's the trick to decluttering your cupboards - never cook more than what you'll eat in one meal, never buy more than what you need to make that meal, and you'll be able to dedicate your shelf space to heirloom china that you use regularly rather than a mountain of cheap, ugly plastic boxes.