Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Something to chew on

Think this peek at a Dow summit portends a healthy economy? Don’t hold your breath. I got a giant dose of reality today and it didn’t taste good. In fact, it didn’t taste like anything at all.

I drove to Whole Foods after ceramics class, hungry for those little rounds of cocktail toasts with pate and cheese. In other words, hungry for some free finger food. I was fairly bouncing up and down in the driver’s seat, mentally organizing my meal -- hit hors d’oeuvres first, move on to a meat course, finish with hazelnut chocolate and a thimble of coffee.

Three fruitless runs through each aisle convinced me our salad days are over. Our fruit and our salad and our shrimp and our gooseliver and liverwort cheese days. Gone.

Whole Foods has closed the all-you-can-eat-for-free daily buffet, i.e., they no longer have unmanned sample kiosks. They barely have any sample kiosks at all. God, I was there just two years ago for an 8-course Thanksgiving dinner.

I finally found a kiosk, but it was guarded by five hatchet-faced employees dispensing Dixie cups that rattled with one walnut and five peanuts. How low can you go. Whole Trader Joe’s Food samples. Next thing they’ll be giving you is the rind end of an old chicken sausage doused in expired marinara sauce.

Probably, some responsibility should be laid at the doorstep of people like me. One time Whole Foods had a snack table of aged cheddar, curried artichokes, and pumpernickel. I tried to play it cool, and every fifteen minutes took a walkabout, me and my mouthful of goodness, over to dairy and studied the goat milk display. But no one, not even the security camera, was fooled. Finally they played the hook music you hear at the Oscars, so I picked up a couple of apples over at produce and made my way to the check stand.

What falls next? The cocktail wieners at Bristol Farms?

This was so disheartening, I dragged the county extension agent out to read our economic barometer. Look at that banana plant; look at that face. Recovery and curried artichokes are years away.


  1. You totally crack me up! A Costco nearby? Still the free buffet there... also at our local Fresh & Easy store. I avoid the aisles with the freebies - my fear of pushy crowds dictates. But I love those appetizers! Great post.

  2. Sorry to hear about your reversal of fortunes in the Comestibles Department, KB. They closed ours at The Food Barn way last fall.

    I also have to say that it doesn't appear that your extension agent has been making enough deposits in his account. I read a fascinating article about nanners the other day. Did I already alert you to this?


    I could gloat about how enormous my banana trees are but yours is truly genetically blessed.

  3. This original thought just came to me: No Free Lunch.
    Doesn't it sound brilliant!

    (Try the weekends at BF & WF, or Costco. Otherwise, try to innocently invite yourself over to some of the loco chef/bloggers.)

  4. I worked at the local mall during my senior year in college. If it wasn't for free samples at Hickory Farms, I would have starved.

  5. NOW I"m sure of it. I want that dog.
    Have you read "Because of Winn Dixie" ? Well you need to after you read that other one I told you to read. Albert and I need some time together Chez Virg. I need a good man in my life right now, and he seems to be the only viable candidate. Ship him on down ASAP.

    My WV is......BRING! I swear, I swear it is!!!!!

  6. Ah, the world of samples. I like how the ladies at Costco use samples to exercise their power. They take their good old time. They've got nowhere to go and you're not getting a sample until they are good and ready. Not until those frozen raviolis reach 172 degrees and then cool down to 97 degrees are you getting any. Period. It's something to watch.

    Bristol Farms. I'm pretty good friends with the sample people at BF. They give me all kinds of extra stuff. What's fun is to hang out and see all the things that people ask and say to try to divert the sample person from the knowledge that the customer has only one objective: free food and he/she doesn't care what it is. The sample people, of course, are totally onto them. They've seen it all. One day I saw a lady ask more questions than a lawyer doing cross examination in a murder case. "Now what was this again?" "Is this the curry or the garlic?" "Oh, how would you put the curry with the raspberry jalapeno jelly? Do you do that with a spoon or a knife? Can I put it in the freezer with aluminum foil or does it need to be plastic?"

    Then there's something I call the "Guilt Buy." This is stuff I buy at Bristol Farms just because I've been in there eating so much that I can't bear to walk out empty handed.

  7. Whole Foods? whole pay check. Try Costco

  8. Earl, Earl, Earl, you totally broke me up. I've heard that among the sample queens, a return trip to the table is called the walk of shame.

    Anyone else getting up at 1 a.m. for the meteor shower?

  9. Trader Joe's over at Hastings Ranch usually gives out free samples of something cooking, plus coffee. I get my coffee first so I have the energy to shop (I'm getting good at pushing the cart one-handed), then I come back for a second cup. They're cool with that. They usually make easy recipes (my absolute favorite) and if it tastes good I'll buy the stuff. Can't have enough easy recipes.

    I'm not going to make it to the meteor shower. If it were happening within the next ten minutes I'd manage it, but that's all I've got left for today.

  10. Can I watch the meteor shower from my bed?

  11. Trader Joe's is consistent with its samples, and I like that. No matter what time you go in, there will be a sample. No messing around, no down time, no "we'll have more around noon." No, there's one sample, and it's always available.

    One time I saw a man ripping into the sample girl at TJ's because she was serving pork. "Why are you serving pork?" he demanded. Don't you know that some people aren't allowed to eat pork?" She offered him some fruit, which he turned down. I wanted to say to him, "The problem with your argument, sir, is that no one has to eat the sample, and there is no obligation on TJ's part to provide a sample that everyone can eat." Instead I just watched, fascinated.

  12. The free food servings at Fresh&Easy in the old Wild Oats on California/Lake are generous and tasty - I would go there for a free lunch every day if I didn't feel guilty about it - after all, they're a British company trying to make it in the U.S.A. and they need my support.

    Why are meteor showers always at night?

  13. A true challenge! Where to find delectable freebies! Hmmm, Ruth's Chris is doing wine tasting on Monday's til November; Colorado Wine shop does a very nice cheese tasting with a glass of wine on Fridays...Yikes! Fresh and Easy behind Peet's was giving away small slabs of marble cake and lunchables bits and chicken and pesto...
    Waaay too much time on my hands---

  14. Those cheap bastards at Whole Foods.

    When I go to Whole Foods in Vancouver, not often, I cringe. With a few noteworthy exceptions, mostly in the bakery dept. it's a rip.

    I may be mistaken but I don't think the original idea behind organic agriculture was to give Whole Foods a license to print money.

    I was in a Whole Foods in Boston last week and they did have sliced and diced melons for the taking. But you can't make a meal out of cantaloupe.

  15. Well, I've had all the free Starbucks Via I can handle - not very good or filling. I do know that the salad bar / food bar thing is cheaper at WF on Wednesdays . . . hope these come back soon.

  16. This post serves to remind me when my foodie soulmate & I were gonna ck out some eatery in So Pasa about 5mths ago.

    But when we arrived, we changed our mind about eating there. She then said, "let's go ck out Bristol Farms. I wanna see if they still sell my fav ___cake." Cake?? Sure...On our way out of BF we took their sample tour way out. Including sweets somethings & wine or champagne, btw.

    Now, remember, we still gotta find a joint to eat. For some reason I can't recall, our next stop was the Alhambra Costco. (This is The Weekend!) Well, I think you know what we did there: we cleaned up on their samples also.

    On our way out of Costco, we still realized we hadn't really "eaten" yet. So, we settled on Costco pizza, hot dog, and mocha freezes.

    On our way back to Pasadena, we were figuring all the dough we had to spend on lunch. 4 sum reason I can't recall, we had big smiles on our faces driving back. Oh, we had to shell out about $6 in total (!) for both of us...appetizers & drinks at Bristol Farms & 2 meals at Costco.

    Can you believe it? Outrageous the prices we have to pay now!

    Oh, this is a tough economy I tell ya. A tough economy. In fact, the toughest part of that day was always having to wait 4 someone in the sample line in front of us who got Multiple samples & could have passed for a Mr.Earl celebrity lookalike.

    And, I agree with Bec on the new Via Starbigbucks coffee. Sampled it at the SMadre branch. Once was more than enuf 4 me. But, Bec's food I'd be willing to pay for. If she only delivered.

    Gotta go. Gettin hungry.

  17. Unmanned free sample kiosks? I didn't know such things ever existed. {My, but your county extension agent is handsome!!}

  18. Cafe: It wasn't me at Bristol Farms who held you up. I always defer to the "customers."

  19. I'd say we all have some very serious stuff in common.

    Hmmm, Fresh and Easy...If you see me bouncing up and down in my driver's seat on Lake today, you'll know where I'm headed.

  20. I gotta try the de new Fresh & Ez also.
    I hear the fresh & easy girls give out good stuff.

  21. Oh, very informative, makes sense to me. It's always good to learn about all the new places.

    I'm only a clueless newbie.

    As always etc.

  22. Seein' as Fresh & Easy refuses to hire union workers in the stores as well as in their commercials, my recommendation is go there and eat! Eat, eat, eat. Just don't buy anything.

  23. But P, your good friends at TJ are non-union.

  24. Are they?


    Sh*t. Now what am I gonna eat?

  25. Just got bak from de Zona Rosa Cafe. Looks like they're FINALLY building out the Elements Rest at de Playhouse. Naturally, you gotta eat, P. So, get back in your kitchen! Or, is it J you say that 2?

  26. Sorry, forgot something.

    As always, have a satisfied DAY, or should I say afternoon.

  27. I was at the Lake store this lunchtime and there was no free cooked food left - were you there before me, Karen? (but as I was leaving they brought out orange chicken with fried rice samples).

  28. I feel your pain, my sister. Good news: Bristol Farms is still doling out snacks. You'll have to come visit.

  29. What are you telling me Bellis, they waited until I left to bring out the good stuff?

  30. Sad! That was my only reason to go there...

  31. I know I'm late commenting, but I just had to say, I've had the same experience! All I can find in Whole Foods now are ultra skinny carrot sticks (and when I say ultra skinny, I mean they actually wiggle when you shake them) with ginger dressing. It's good dressing, but without a cheese sampler to cap it off, it's just not worth it.

  32. I never, ever, take free samples...

    "who's a good county extension agent, who's a good boy...?!!"

  33. Free food kept me alive when I first moved to Los Angeles. Trader Joes used to have samples of EVERYTHING!


    Costco scares me. Those 50 roll packs of toilet paper wouldn't even fit in the back of my car.

  34. Yeah, I can't see paying $60 to join cosco to get free finger food.