08 January 2008

Daily Life: Shop Till You Drop

By Delia DeLeest

Making a quick trip to the grocery store is something we all do on a regular basis without much thought, but it wasn't that long ago when doing your weekly shopping was a bit more of a challenge.

Before Piggly Wiggly changed the way America shopped, a housewife made a trip to the dry goods store, the butcher, maybe a couple of fruit and vegetable vendors, among others before they had the food their families needed for the week. They would give their list to the person behind the counter, who would rush back and forth, filling their order. The new convenience foods of the twentieth century would change all that.

Piggly Wiggly opened in 1916 and became America's first true self-service grocery store. Customers were no longer at the mercy of less than ambitious store clerks or questionable products and weighing practices. Instead of waiting in line for their turn to have a clerk assist them, they could grab a basket, pick up everything they needed at their own pace, go through the new-fangled check-out lines and be back at home in no time.

In the past, the customer was at the mercy of the store owner. Dishonest practices such as adding chalk or other substances into flour, old milk or eggs and other types of food tampering were common. But with the development of Campbell's soup in 1897, Bird's Eye frozen foods in the 1920s, and various pre-packaged breakfast cereals during that same period, customers were assured of consistent quality and ease in preparation.

The time they saved in shopping and meal preparation, as well as other time-saving inventions like the vacuum cleaner and electric washing machines, gave the average women in the early 1900s free time known before to only the higher classes. In a roundabout way, these innovations brought about the emergence of such new activities as Mahjong and crossword puzzles.

A new, more efficient era had begun.