A Delaware teen recently received ample press coverage when her college essay about Costco gained her admission into five Ivy League schools – and Stanford. She attested that Costco “fueled her insatiability and cultivated curiosity at a cellular level.”
I tend to contemplate the effects of Costco on our society, only I scrutinize it through a 41-year-old lens. The population at Costco is not a realist representation of society since it requires purchase membership. Unlike a club where you gather because of common interests, such as billiards or bowling, here we congregate to purchase enormous contents of food. I sheepishly joined the “Fraternity of the Bulk” when I came to the crossroads of moving to NJ and having a teenager. I carry a heavy guilt on my shoulders; for all its well-meaning intentions, Costco still feels like an all-American glutton fest. Yet somehow I have evolved into a Costco membership card toting woman.
In her admissions essay, the teenage girl wonders about the potential uses for three pound jars of sour cream or else how humans can exhibit miraculous self-restraint when confronted with a one pound jar of Nutella. Meanwhile, I reflect on how as a two-year-old, rather than tackling stuffed animal towers at Costco, I was shlepping with my mother to a Russian bazaar in hopes we didn’t miss out on toilet paper.
At a bare minimum, the Costco emporium is a terrific background for a mid-day date with the husband. Notorious for their gourmet samples in small white paper cups, we’ve learned Friday afternoons provide the greatest bounty for our pescetarian diet. Last week we sampled smoked salmon, tuna, seaweed salad, three types of crackers, two types of cheese, lobster ravioli, edamame pasta, and dark chocolate covered mangoes. Also offered, in small styrofoam cups, was coconut water, vitamin water, and gourmet instant coffee, which served as a great dessert. As a bonus, the expansive warehouse forces a bit of exercise to help burn off those portion controlled samples.
How have our romantic dates become me dressed in a North Face parka, picking out organic spinach in the freezer section the size of an airplane hangar? I have turned into one of those people who shops for everything at Costco because I’m already there and 90% of being a grown up is embracing convenience. My socks, underwear, camisoles, leggings, jeans, jacket, hat and gloves all fashionable finds at the Hackensack Costco. “Honey, you could use a fresh pair of jeans,” my husband suggests.
“Oh, OK. I’ll just grab a pair on the way to pick up the 36-pack of disposable razors in aisle 126.”
Admittedly, I also scrutinize other carts at checkout. I judge the other mother who has packed her cart full of sugar cereals, frozen pizzas, and gallons of corn syrup ice cream. I think to myself, “Why does Costco still sell this crap? It seems as a corporation, they make great strides on certain fronts (a plethora of organic food options) and yet still offer up GMO treats to the eager, ignorant buyers I’m embarrassed to call co-members of my club.
Even Costco cafe offerings have me frowning and tsk-tsking. Churro sticks, hot dogs, greasy pizza? Standing proudly with my Instagram-worthy, organic food-laden cart, I think of the Delaware Teen’s winning essay and think, “Well her mother let her eat a churro AND a hot dog and she turned out well enough to write a winning admissions essay, how bad could those foods really be?” Maybe I’ve been obsessing over all the wrong things.
While Future Miss Ivy League was inspired to hypothesize about physics theorems and daydream about aerial yoga, I merely defy physics by wheeling a cart double my 5’2” petite frame with a 40-pound kid on board. I daydream about an hour to do any yoga, preferably horizontally with my husband. I ponder how to use my fancy college journalism degree and 13 years of corporate advertising experience to creatively shove organic spinach into five different dishes. I consider how I now use my precisely-honed editing skills to scour the ingredients lists to make sure I’m not accidentally buying sugar squares, disguised as bread.
As this seemingly mature teen nostalgically dives into academic introspection, I long for the envious headspace motherhood has monopolized. For her, Costco was a springboard for exploration; for me, it is a mundane, weekly errand where I am forced to recognize my position as just another American indulging in the American Dream: The Supermarket Edition.