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Summer Postcards 2013

Eat, Pay, Live

Copley Square: home of beautiful buildings, miscellaneous events, and overpriced food.
Copley Square: home of beautiful buildings, miscellaneous events, and overpriced food.
By Victor C. Wu

BOSTON—Life has been prodding me in the general direction of "adulthood" for some time now.  Sometimes it even succeeds.  After all, I’m already like 19—and what better assurance of adult status could I have than the knowledge that I’m only two years away from legally purchasing alcohol?  Despite my nominal designation as an adult, though, I (and I suspect most of my peers) haven’t really needed to live or budget like one before.  My college expenses thus far have primarily consisted of movie tickets, random things from CVS, and unfortunate amounts of 3 a.m. Tasty Burger.

With no Canaday or Annenberg over the summer, though, I’ve had to (slightly) adapt my sheltered existence to a strange, new reality: living expenses.  And so begins my ongoing summer fling with the local Shaw’s Supermarket (Whole Foods is just out of my league).

The novelty of this summer shopping experience for me, though, isn’t so much the actual act as it is the mentality that comes with it.  When the fridge is emptied by relentless snacking, there aren’t magical parent figures who drive out into the wilderness and come back with nutritionally-balanced meals.  There is not even a nearby location where I can get unlimited amounts of more-or-less free food that I later complain about to my friends.

Instead, I trek over to the Prudential Center Shaw’s with my roommates.  I like to wander around, meandering through the store like any respectable shopper and seeing what hidden gems I can find.  There’s a certain grown-up feeling that comes with shopping and (more importantly) paying for groceries yourself.  As I walk past the various families, 30-somethings couples, and slow-moving elderly, I feel like I’m on equal terms with them, as if I’m another full-fledged adult making a life in the city.  Unfortunately, one of my roommates isn’t quite as taken by my romantic Shaw’s routine.  He says I grocery shop like his mom.

Like a parent, I suppose, shopping regularly has made me more acutely conscious of this tricky thing called prices.  Those obscure generic brands, with their oft-repeated (and oft-questioned) assurances of “high quality” and “best value,” have started to seem like the only sensible things to buy.  And the previously-ignored unit prices (the ones in orange boxes) have become the clearest source of shopping wisdom.  Consider the case of Stone Ridge Creamery’s self-described “Real Ice Cream,” which costs $7.44 a gallon at Shaw’s last time I checked.  But what about those inviting little Häagen-Dazs tubs, the ones that are the perfect size for a questionable-judgment ice cream binge?  That impulse buy goes for $45.63 a gallon.

Needless to say, one of the happiest moments of my summer was when the $2.29 bucket of sherbet dropped to $1.99.

Of course, all this shopping expertise is not to imply that I’ve successfully managed to make my own meals with the food I purchase.  Despite our best efforts (read: bought some pasta two months ago and put it on a shelf), my roommates and I have yet to cook an edible dinner for ourselves.  But I like to think of this not as a failure or an embarrassing degree of laziness, but rather an opportunity.

Instead of stressing over our non-existent cooking skills, we go out to eat essentially every night.  It’s also actually not as expensive as it might sound—I can eke out a daily food budget of under $10 if I really try (and maybe do some involuntary dieting).  My roommates and I have made it our implicit goal to go to every cheap restaurant in the surrounding Boston area.  So basically, we just eat a lot of takeout and Subway.  It’s always awkward when we wander into a restaurant assuming it’s affordable, only to discover prices with uncomfortably high tens digits.  Hopefully future adulthood will come with a larger income.

For the time being, it’s fun to play the role of adult (to varying degrees of success) and imagine that I am, indeed, self-sufficient.  Who knows, maybe in three years I will graduate and finally be mature and/or hungry enough to open that pasta box and investigate its mysterious, uncooked contents.  That is, of course, before I most likely lapse into the world of cheap food that has sustained me thus far. For now all I know is that soon I’ll be back in the warm, pre-paid embrace of Harvard University Dining Services.  The struggle life is almost over.

At least, until next summer.

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Summer Postcards 2013