Saturday, November 12, 2005

On to Mollie Stone's.

For the last several weeks, if not months, I have had nothing but trouble trying to patronize eco-telligent grocery stores. Trader Joe's finally wore out my patience with their insane free-sample men, and Whole Foods...well, you can read what happened at Whole Foods. That was about two posts ago.

My pantry has steadily been growing bare since the Whole Foods incident, and today, as I was consuming my last precious slices of What Are You In-Ham-U-Ating? cured avocado ham, I knew I had to get out there and find a new damned place to shop. The assurance that my foray would almost certainly end in utter disappointment was with me from the onset.

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area there is a chain of grocery stores nearly identical to Whole Foods, except with lower ceilings and a penchant for low-budget animatronic displays in the produce and bakery departments. It is called Mollie Stone's, and in their Palo Alto produce department, a trio of deranged 3' tall corn cobs (they do not even have eyes) does a crummy, jerky dance to "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" while a chubby, recently-sated radish blinks and rubs its tummy (oh, so the RADISH gets eyes?!). It makes no sense to me at all.

That aside, it is one of my last options in terms of earth-friendly grocery shopping, and so I had to give it its fair shake.

I didn't mess around, and immediately headed to the bulk aisle. This is the true litmus test of an intelligent grocery store, and Mollie Stone's fared pretty well. Quinoa, true couscous, yab, smoked mace, even imported gummi Shinto gates. Their bulk buyer knew his business, and I inwardly respected him. I even went so far as to nibble on a Nogurt-covered dehydrated parsnip ring (technically, an "extroodle," made from extruded, flash-baked parsnip foam) and silently nod, should he be watching from the closed circuit anti-theft camera.

Smooth sailing, so far. I made my way through the canned goods, restocking many familiar staples, such as Amy's Organic One-Bean Soup (finally, a company that isn't trying to appeal to my baser instincts with an overwhelming variety of beans), Franklin W. Chong's water chestnuts (great on long car trips), and AAA-Service crackers, the only canned crackers available on the American market. Excellent. All items which would serve well in any respectable disaster-preparedness pack.

Heh. You were probably waiting for this part. Yes, I did finally run across a free-sample table, somewhere around the endcap of the home goods aisle. It offered a kalamata olive-based salsa called "Soulsa," and, after checking the ingredients on the opened jar, I scooped some onto a pita chip and took a bite. Truth be told, the olives made for a heavy, almost leaden flavor, not like what you'd want from a salsa, and it lacked zing. It was really more of a tapenade, if anything, and did not successfully enter the realm of Mexican condimentry.

The host of the table was a curious specimen. She was stout, and wore baggy carpenter's jeans, with a punk person studded belt, and much too small of a striped polo-type shirt. A sizable band of her midriff was exposed, which I fortunately didn't see until after I tasted the product. Perhaps the strangest thing about her was her short spiky hair and the way she seemed to stare straight ahead at the top of the wall she was facing. The whole time I was tasting I don't think she so much as flinched. When I finally finished sampling the product and began to describe its shortcomings to her, I noticed that tears were running silently down her cheeks, and she was fighting to hold back what seemed like a sea of blubbering.

I can always tell when someone's going to lose it and just blubber like there was no tomorrow. This was one of those times. She had no business trying to hock a product in that state of mind, so I took control and told her she was dismissed. She immediately turned and headed off for the black rubber employee double-doors, and I, feeling some sense of interim duty, took up her post. For the better part of half an hour I stood and described the leaden, unpleasant qualities of the Soulsa product, and encouraged customers to look elsewhere for their salsa needs. When it became apparent that the girl was not coming back, I waited for a lull in the crowd, took off the Soulsa apron, and wheeled off to the checkstand with my cart.

I kind of liked the Mollie Stone's experience. Call me unusual, but I very much enjoyed the feeling of standing on the other side of the free sample table. I think I will be back. I think I may even develop my own food product, and evangelize it in eco-telligent grocery stores. Time to hit the drawing board.