10 September 2002
In the waning days of summer, when the temps are beginning to drop to warm enough to be
comfortable, cool enough to be comfortable, the active Californian heads for the hills.
Cars are packed with sleeping bags and camping gear, some pull boats with water skis,
bikes are mounted on bike racks on the back. The physically fit are off to enjoy a couple
of free days swimming, hiking, biking, jogging and doing other things that physically fit
The paunchy head for Costco.
As I am currently straddling two worlds, I was able to take my choice: exercise or
shopping. Since we had not been to Costco in a long time, shopping won out.
For the two or three still left in the world who may not have experienced a Costco-like
store, the first view of this place is overwhelming. Everything is oversized. Picture an
enormous warehouse the size of an airplane hangar. It's very tall. It's very long (you
could easily park a couple of 747s, end to end in the middle with lots of room to spare).
It's very full of people. It's full of food, clothing, and other things you simply must
have. Here you can purchase everything from cereal to refrigerators, from dog food to
computers, from jellybeans to diamond rings, from broccoli to jeans, from ice cream to
novels or CDs. Everything comes in the large size. 50-100 pound sacks of kibble. 36
roll packages of toilet paper. 12 packs of yogurt. 5 lb. blocks of cheese. etc. The idea
is to buy in bulk and save.
The shopping carts are double-wide, and most of the people pushing them are as well.
Costco is a great place to pack on a few pounds because, especially on a weekend day, at
the end of most aisles are women with little bake-ovens cooking samples of the foods they
hope you will buy. People wander around the place with little nibbles of pizza, or pieces
of pastry. You can easily get your free lunch by making a tour of the samples (and if that
doesn't fill you up, you can stop at the hot dog stand or get a soft pretzel or an soft
ice cream on your way out).
I am of the "stock up" generation. We joined a food co-op 30 years ago in
Oakland and just continued buying in bulk ever since. I have to keep reminding myself that
we no longer have 7 people living here and that it really isn't necessary to stock up for
only two people. But who can pass up a giant size bottle of oregano, a quart bottle of
tabasco, or a 10 lb sack of frozen chicken breasts?
I had been wanting to get to Costco ever since a friend, who is also on WeightWatchers,
told me she's been eating a lot of frozen bagel dogs, which she purchases at Costco.
Sounded like a good new food find, which I have been unable to get at the local
supermarket. While there I might as well also stock up on other stuff.
Costco has not heard of "low fat," or if they have, they are embarrassed to
admit it, since you have to really hunt to find something that is not sugar-coated and
fat-soaked. All of the things that I have finally learned to like in the lower fat, lower
calorie version were unavailable at Costco. You could buy 25 lbs of sugar, but not a small
box of Splenda. You could get a half gallon jar of mayonnaise, but not the low fat
variety. You could get huge bags of greasy chips, but no baked chips. You could get any of
a bazillion types of bread, but no high fiber bread.
Around me children cried for samples of candy, which parents were loading up in huge
bags. Fathers rested little cups of soup samples on their ample bellies while pushing the
carts up and down the aisles. Women in tight-fitting pants loaded up on fried frozen foods
(I was one of those in tight-fitting pants, but I was virtuously passing up the taquitos,
the stuffed, breaded jalapiņos, and the mini quiches.)
In the end, I bought very little--canned tomatoes and tomato sauce, fat free yogurt,
frozen chicken breasts, cereal, dog treats, and videotapes. I found bagel dogs, but they
must not be the same ones, since these were refrigerated and 400 calories each, and I
decided to pass (never did find frozen ones).
We stood in a line that stretched forever from the cash registers and then went
out to the car, our basket only half full, walking behind a family with two heaping
baskets, the pastries peaking out of the top, over the bags of Snickers.
I suspect that my new lifestyle doesn't match Costco any more. Next time maybe I'll try
heading up into the mountains with my bike strapped to the back of the car instead.