The whole idea of ordering groceries online and having them delivered for an extra charge (plus tip) seemed to me like the sort of thing people do in Area Code 212 and certain select sectors of 718, but not in my sector, not on Staten Island.
Besides, I told myself, I'm not the sort of person who orders from FreshDirect and never would be, no matter which area code I lived in. Except that now, I was that sort of person. I did indeed do that sort of thing.
My reasons were a wife just home from the hospital and facing a life-changing treatment regimen. An adult son who's part of our household, temporarily incapacitated from a work injury. Unending snow and ice. And a raft of housekeeping duties that I no longer shared but had to assume whole, and overnight, many involving food. These in addition to my responsibilities as manager of the small rental property we live in.
More like gifts than groceries
Right from the start, FreshDirect browsing, buying, receiving, storing and eating was not only easy and straightforward; it was fun. On the day and time I'd reserved, an unfailingly pleasant and efficient delivery person would arrive with a bounty of carefully packed corrugated boxes that seemed like gifts, not groceries.
For her, it was the string beans. For me, it was a highly touted brand of grapefruit, every segment plump, juicy and delicious. Large, super-sweet tangerines with skin so loose, they practically peeled themselves. And collard greens and kale and brussel sprouts that looked, cooked and tasted like advertisements for themselves.
What we could afford
And then, all in a flash, we understood: Our working-class families had never had access to this kind of quality.Though we had always been diet-conscious, always eaten pretty sensibly, we had shopped for and eaten what we could afford. And what we could afford was sometimes, well, lesser. 'Choice,' not 'Fancy.' 'Grade B,' not 'Grade A.'
We wouldn't choose the big, beautiful, blemish-free FreshDirect apples grown in nearby orchards and sold, like jewels, in a styrofoam four-pack. Instead, we'd choose the three-pound bag containing smaller, less perfect specimens. In citrus, not the impeccable tangerine gleaming a color-corrected super-orange, but the smaller orangey-yellow one with the super-tight spider-veiny skin that's a struggle to peel.
How the other half eats
I feel it as a failure of character that while I can often taste the difference between Fancy and Grade A or between Grades A and B, I'm often unwilling to pay extra for the extra quality. Which, now that I think of it, pretty much sums up my experience with Fresh Direct.
For one month, I tasted how the other half eats. Everything was fresher, better looking and more flavorful, with fewer disappointments and less waste. The ordering and delivery processes were, similarly, nearly flawless.
Back to The Beef
But at the end of that month, I learned that perfection was unaffordable.My non-revolving credit-card bill showed that in a single month, I had spent nearly $500, which didn't include my bodega runs, or my wife's.
An item-by-item price comparison of FreshDirect with our local supermarket, Western Beef, confirmed we were indeed eating beyond our means. On a single representative order, we had spent nearly $13 more buying from Fresh Direct --- not including the delivery charge and the tip.
Clearly, it was time to go back to The Beef.