Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Hoity-Toity-fication of America

I have a question for y'all. Is the hoity-toity-fication of consumer goods inevitable?

When I went to Barrow, I was astonished to order a cup of tea in a tiny, unpretentious cafe, and be presented with a selection of a dozen or so fancy teabags. As a tea drinker, I was pleased, but also a little unnerved. I drink exquisite Taiwan-grown Oolong tea at home and in my office, but when I'm traveling in remote areas, Lipton original and Red Rose suit me just fine.

Here in Fairbanks, I once practically went catatonic at the tortilla selection at Freddie's. Understand, this is not a region of America heavily populated by Latin Americans, and yet--a full wall, three shelves high, of over thirty types of tortillas. Studies have shown that having too many choices induces paralysis, and that's pretty much what happened to me; I stood there reading labels, going back and forth from this package to that, until I actually felt crazy. What, after all, were the best and worst possible ramifications of my tortilla choice? Minutes later, an acquaintance of mine passed by and saw me standing there clutching six packages of tortillas, my head tilted to one side, my eyes glazed over, dribble working its way down my chin, etc, etc. He immediately assessed the situation, grabbed five of my bags away, and proclaimed, "You have tortillas! Good!" and marched me to the next aisle.

We might feel that we are happier with more choices (and Wal-Mart does such a stupendous job of capitalizing on this that I can hardly set foot in there without going catatonic), but are we truly? I heard somewhere that there is some optimal number of choices (between 3 and 6) that makes us feel satisfied. Any fewer, and we feel that we didn't have much of a choice. Any more, and we go back and forth and walk away wondering whether we really got the best one, and should we go back and study all of the other ones one more time?

But what's really, really interesting to me about all of these consumer choices is that it allows the true market trends to show up, and, as I hinted at at the beginning of this post, that trend seems to be toward ever fancier and hoity-toity stuff!

Observe, if you will, one third of the new cheese display at Freddie's:

I loves me my cheese and am delighted with this new addition, but there is even fancy-pancy artisan salt, to be ground directly from beautiful marbled blocks for your chi-chi cooking!

Amazing, is it not? I'm so torn between loving the cheese and hating the consumerism. My heart is confused.


Rena said...

Hmmm, you'd think people had more money to spend these days. I remember visiting my relative in fancy-pants Palos Verdes down in SoCal when I was really little. Their Bristol Farms market had a beautiful wine and cheese selection - way more cheese than the blocks of yellow and white that I was used to! Also that was the first time I ever saw a leek. But the neighborhood was pretty sophisticated - they knew their camembert from their brie and had the money to spend. I wonder if the clientele at your market will support such a fancy cheese and salt display? I've noticed that even in our comparatively wealthy area of town, our Whole Foods has dramatically scaled back on the luxury items.

mdr said...

More competition, better products.

flying fish said...

mmmcheese. When I go to the big city of Juneau, I am mesmerized by choices. Acres of mustard, miles of cheese, mountains of cereal. Now I'm going to have to assess truck loads of tortillas! It's kind of fun to know that I'm naive enough to be overwhelmed by excess. (and apparently feeling all poetic and wordy this morning)

Arvay said...

Okay, I've decided... I've decided... that... I LOVE THE CHEESE! I embrace consumerist America! Bring it on!