Food & Drink

Infusion Confusion: A Not-Too-Serious Look at Suburban New Jersey's Obsession with Trader Joe's

EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - East Brunswick knows how it feels to be left-swiped on Tinder - briefly considered, judged, and rejected.  Ever since Trader Joe's chose to open on Route 1 South in North Brunswick, East Brunswick has been sitting at the far end of the bar, staring down into a flat beer and letting our Buffalo wings congeal.  Why them and not us?  Don't we like fig and olive infused whatevers, too?  Don't we deserve organic foods of known composition but unknown origin, too?

Okay, fine.  Fine, okay?

Maybe having a Trader Joe's isn't the great suburban dream after all.  To be honest, wandering the aisles there in search of mystery products I never knew I wanted makes me feel like I am cheating on the East Brunswick Shop-Rite and Stop-and-Shop.  There's something just not right about it.  Aldi, named after the Albrecht Brothers of Germany who own both that store and Trader Joe's, plays on the Bears' home team.

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Here's a few specific reasons why we should all be careful what we wish for:

1.  Dreaming of Trader Joe's is a sign of our collective low-self-esteem.  In some part of ourselves, we feel that we need to be uplifted out of our Costco mentality that lots of stuff will help us heal our perceived wounds.  We somehow think it's wrong to go to the same store to buy avocados, cat food, shampoo, batteries and scandal magazines.  Trader Joe's, in the words of Peter Frampton, will "show us the way."  

After all, the closest TJ's to us is outside of Princeton. 'Nuff said, EBHS Class of 2018 hopefuls.  Shop at Trader Joe's and your IQ goes up and your SAT scores soar.  We will all be smarter and better looking because we can no longer choose Sunny D or Frankenberry.

2.  We want pretend to care about being "organic."  I know that last week at your Giants tailgate party you poured some hot chili into your bag of Fritos, washed it down with a Mountain Dew, and thought it was the greatest culinary experience of your life. (Stop looking at your feet. You know you did.)  Today, though, you want to be seen as forward-thinking and connected to the earth.  The ample supply of Brussels sprouts on the stem available at Trader Joe's calls out to you, inviting you to change your ways and purchase smaller amounts of things you don't really understand or like so that you can feel good about yourself.

Let's have a look at those sprouts after they spend a couple of weeks in the crisper after the "normal" vegetables come and go. Mine dried up.  did yours get squishy?

3. Face it, some products are just weird.  We buy them once to give them a try because we all like to think of ourselves as adventurous "foodies."  Vanilla coconut beverage?  I have no idea what that is, but it sounds suspiciously like a liberal version of the dreaded "American Cheese Food Product" labeling that my mom warned me not to buy.

Just for kicks, I bought the "Turkey and Stuffing Seasonal Kettle Chips:"  "All the flavor of Thanksgiving in each potato chip." I thought I could cut back on cooking time this holiday and just serve them with a beer.  Wal-Mart offers chips that taste like Reuben sandwiches.  Taste test?

4.  There are so many pumpkin-flavored items at Trader Joe's that it's actually scary.  Pumpkin has very little flavor.  As those of us who are annual pie-bakers know, it's the cinnamon, allspice, and cloves that provide the taste.  This aggressive gourd has taken over an entire season of the year, and I, for one, will not put up with it any more.  The whole pumpkin this is the avatar of a scary cult.  At the North Brunswick Trader Joe's, it is hard to avoid the pumpkins and Brussels sprouts.  #Sinister.

5.  It's hard to describe which is worse.  Listening to pop-music from the 1950's and 60's (sans hippies) or standing in a line named "Milltown Road" when checking out.  As I was considering the possibility of purchasing some "Carrot and Cashew Dip" that was "bursting with flavor," I actually heard the lyric "bright, elusive butterfly of love," which made me cringe in 1966.  At that time, I was riding backwards in a shopping cart of the Union City A&P, kicking my mom in the belly.  Still, I knew bad poetry when I heard it.

Naming the checkout aisles at Trader Joe's is a company tradition, but around here it is not very glamorous.  In North Brunswick, it's even worse.  Plus, I have no time to read the scandal-ridden tabloids or to try to resist the Snickers that line a more traditional checkout line.   They are not even there.  Super-black dark chocolate or green-tea mints are really not worth those Weight Watchers points.

6.  Carrying a personal grudge, I miss the Barnes and Noble bookstore that was displaced by this upstart "you can buy some of your groceries" here store.  The only other bookstores for miles around are the B&N at the Brunswick Square Mall or the B&N at Rutgers in New Brunswick.  Remember the bookstores that used to be spotted all over George Street in New Brunswick?  Remember the coffee bar at Borders Books?  Enjoy those Brussels sprouts while reading the labels on Dr. Bronner's soaps at TJ's, guys.

7.  They do not sell cheap wine at the North Brunswick Trader Joe's.  They do not sell cheap wine at the North Brunswick Trader Joe's.  They do not sell cheap wine at the North Brunswick Trader Joe's.  Have I made my point?

This is just my opinion and I'm putting it out there.  I am working hard on lifting my own self-esteem, and I do not need Trader Joe's to do it.  Every day, I survive the e-mail that says that, once again, I did not win the lottery for "Springsteen on Broadway" tickets.  I move forward without the slightest bit of pumpkin-flavored Brussels sprout cauliflower-crust pizza.

Well, maybe just a taste...

 

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