buying food online

Do you live to eat, or do you eat to live? As someone who genuinely loves food, I’ve always hated that question. No, I want to say I do not live to eat precisely, but the food is important to me. And not for the poetic reasons many like to hide behind these days, either. I don’t love good food because it’s an integral part of cultural exploration or exchange; I don’t love good food because it’s a connective tissue to our loved ones; I don’t love good food because it’s a source of comfort - though, I do believe it is all that and more.  

I love good food simply because I enjoy the taste. Everything else comes after. I enjoy tasty food. Prosaic, isn’t it?

But really, why has it become such a point of shame to admit we love food for the way it tastes and nothing else? Why must we wax poetic about how we feel connected to our ancestors through traditional local dishes or how we feel like artists when cooking?

I consider the money spent on good food money well spent if it’s high-quality, tasty food. I’ve learned not to shame myself for it. And while I’m certainly proud of my current shame-free relationship with food which I know many around me do continue to shame me for, it does come with certain burdens.

Mostly monetary ones.

Because here’s the uncomfortable truth: good, high-quality, tasty food can cost a lot (especially with the current inflation crisis), and I’m a freelance writer on a limited budget. 

The two don’t really jive together if you get what I mean. My solution to the problem turned out to be simple: I started buying most foods I like stocking my pantry and fridge with at an online grocery store.

Why I Buy Most of My Groceries Online:

Hold on, you’ll say, that should cost you more, not less; aren’t you more likely to overspend while shopping online instead of sticking to the budget?

Well, no, not really. I’ve found that shopping at an online grocery store requires less restraint than shopping at a physical one, at least as long as you’ve got your shopping list ready and don’t just aimlessly browse. 

Here are just a few advantages I’ve learned how to benefit from when shopping online:

Shopping online makes it easier to stick to the items you want. I won’t lie; an online grocery store will recommend items based on your purchases, but even when they sound good and tempt you into adding them to your cart. 

But purchasing items online also means you get confronted with the bill before you stand in front of a cashier. And deleting items from your online cart is much easier than putting them back on the shelves from a physical one. 

When I find my prospective bill to be over my budget shopping online, I simply delete the items I need the least from my list. 

- Shopping online provides better access to gourmet food. Finding authentic imported items, many with protected status (DOP or IGP), at reasonable rates is considerably easier at an online grocery store. 

Most artisan shops that carry similar items tend to hike prices (not that I blame them, the smaller the business, the more funds it needs for proper maintenance), and if you find alternatives at your local supermarket, chances are you pay more through time and money spent on the journey if nothing else.

- On that note, shopping online saves a lot of time. This one strongly depends on where you’re located, but if you live further than a fifteen-minute walk from your local supermarket (or if you buy different items at different supermarkets), then it’s highly likely that shopping for your groceries online will be a much quicker and efficient affair than getting into your car, driving to a supermarket (or a few, if you need specific items that can’t be acquired at the same place), browsing through isles to fill the cart, standing in the queue for the cashier, loading everything into the car, and driving back home. 

- Shopping online also saves money if you’re smart about it. But won’t the shipping from the online grocery store cost me more? You’ll ask. Not if you’re smart: most online grocery stores offer free shipping over a certain amount spent. If you’re stocking up instead of purchasing one specific item, chances are you’ll spend enough to qualify. 

Moreover, as online grocery shopping becomes more common, you’re more likely to find deals, sales, offers, etc., on items you’re interested in: either through subscriptions, first-purchase discounts, coupon codes, or simply as a promotion tactic for lesser-known manufacturers and products. 

Online grocery stores are fiercely competitive and in constant need of enticing new buyers. This competition can be mutually beneficial both for the seller and the buyer (if they’re both smart about it).

- You can always check whether you’re getting a good quality item at a sensible price. Is the online grocery store you’ve chosen trustworthy? Is the item you’re purchasing as good as the label claims? Is it offering the best prices, or are you better off shopping elsewhere? I’ve noticed I’m much more likely to google answers to these questions when sitting in front of my laptop instead of browsing the isles. 

When something caught my fancy at a supermarket, I simply used to dump it into my cart (one of the reasons, and not a small one, why I used to spend more when shopping offline). Now, when most of my grocery shopping is happening online, I find myself being less spontaneous and researching the item first before adding it to my cart. It’s much easier when Google is underhand, and I can do grocery shopping any day of the week at any time from the comfort of my couch. 

What I Buy Online:

When I mention online grocery stores to my friends, their first reaction is to call me a food snob. And you know what? I can admit to it: I absolutely started shopping online because I am a bit of a food snob. I do plan my budget in a way that allows me to spend on gourmet food. 

Only, instead of Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, I seek out the items I’m interested in at groceries stores that focus on imported products. I am more than ready to pay for quality. Only delving into the possibilities, it turned out I didn’t have to

But, at the same time, I do admit that I don’t buy everything at an online grocery store. I do still visit my local supermarket from time to time. Sometimes it’s to get an item or two I’m running low on, sometimes just to satisfy a craving I want to be fulfilled immediately and can’t wait for 3-to-7-day shipping for. 

Mostly, when shopping for groceries online, I stick to groceries that have become my pantry and fridge staples, the items I can anticipate needing to stock up on. And if I throw in something (or a few somethings) else into the cart alongside them from time to time… well, I reckon it’s perfectly fine, as long as I’m staying under budget.

Here’s what my online grocery list looks like:

Cheese

I have to admit: my experience with online grocery shopping started with gourmet cheese. I wanted to try out a few traditional European cheese varieties with PDO status I couldn’t find at my supermarket and cost far too much at an artisanal store. I would have overpaid for them if there was no other way, but I decided to do a quick search online to find if there was a cheaper way to get them. Lo and behold: there was. 

Canned Goods

I must admit, I had a specific thing in mind when checking out canned goods: authentic Italian tuna. Because I, too, fell for mercury fear drum banging and read that Italian tuna had lower levels and was thus healthier. Frankly, I learned better, but the tuna was delicious, and it turned out that canned goods survive travel very well, so I started adding other items (seafood, vegetables, legumes, etc.) to the shopping list.

Sauces (and Other Condiments)

Sauces take up essential space in my fridge stock. A good sauce can make even a mediocre dish taste like gourmet cooking. And unless you’re ready to make your condiments at home, then goods imported from their native countries are your best bet: genuine Italian pesto, Dijon mustard, Chinese chili oil, or French Hollandaise are the easiest way to give your dish authentic flair, even if you’re cooking with run-of-the-mill (or even subpar) ingredients. Not to mention that sauces are one of the most versatile cooking ingredients that can be used in multiple ways and recoup their costs ten times over when utilized with a bit of fantasy.

Jams, Preserves, Honey

Fruit preserves, jams, marmalades, and honey go into my shopping cart for the same reasons as canned goods and sauces: they survive shipping well (as long as you’re shopping at a trustworthy grocery store that packs them well), they’re versatile, and they last a long time. It’s always worth having a jar or two of jam and honey in your pantry because adding it to the table along with some bread, crackers, and cheese is an easy way to solve the “what do I serve” problem when you’re out of ideas.

Cured Meats

I have to admit; I had very little understanding of how gourmet cured meats compare to what is usually sold at a supermarket. And now that I’ve had a taste of authentic Spanish and Italian cured meats, I don’t want to go back to the supermarket stuff. Add a few strips of prosciutto or a few slices of authentic chorizo together with some gourmet cheese to your sandwich, scrambled eggs, or even porridge, and you’ve got a very satisfying meal with minimal effort on your hand.

Pasta and Noodles

I once read that pasta and noodles are considered “fragile items”: items that can be troublesome to buy online because they have a higher chance of being damaged during transportation. I don’t think I’d ever risk buying any online if it weren’t for a specific need: I wanted to try the famous Korean fire noodle challenge, and since there isn’t an Asian grocery store near me, it was either risking online purchase or driving a ridiculously long way just for some noodles. But as Ramyun survived without any damage, I got tempted into buying other noodles online as well: by that point, I had already switched to specific manufacturers and had an interest in a few more that were easier to acquire online. 

Spices

Nothing much to say about this one other than that quality spices do as much, if not more, for a dish as quality condiments. From staples like Italian seasoning to Provence herb mix to more specialized items like Taiwanese chicken seasoning or Japanese rice seasoning, a good spice blend adds a depth of flavor and complexity to most simple dishes without much effort on the cook’s part. 

Chocolate (and Other Sweet Things)

Most of my sweets are acquired online these days. But chocolate is the big one. Authentic Italian and Belgian chocolate, to be more specific. It can get a bit pricey, not unlike gourmet cheese or cured meats, but the quality is worth the price. It simply tastes better, and that’s the end of it. Now, if I ever crave a good old Snickers bar (which I occasionally do)? That I buy at my local supermarket. But if I’m stocking up, I’m stocking up on Perugina chocolate, not Snickers bars. 

Coffee

Authentic Italian coffee beans. Delivered right to my doorstep. Without having to scour local Specialty Coffee Shops. Nuff said.

Regional Specialties

I do have to reiterate that I consider myself an epicure (and a bit of a food snob), so the authenticity of flavors is important to me, especially when it’s my first time tasting something. If I want to try a new variety of cheese, meat, or even cookies that a particular region is known for, I’d instead try one imported from its native country and do a bit of research in advance, besides (like Japanese sweets, Italian cured meats, French cheese, etc.).

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