Sunday, May 01, 2005

The agony of choice

I hit a note of slight disillusion with US supermarkets a while ago.

One of the problems is the excess of choices. The American way: if choice is good, lots of choice must be better. Well, sometimes it just frazzles my brain. Broader choices don’t make choosing any easier; they make it harder.

Proliferation of choice is particularly endemic in convenience food. Umpteen different packages of flavoured instant couscous, but if you want to make it yourself you’re out of luck: they don’t carry any plain couscous.

Want chocolate cake frosting? Here’s your choices in the Betty Crocker range alone:

Betty Crocker frosting.
  • Milk Chocolate
  • Dark Chocolate
Simple enough. But then there’s a puzzler:

  • Chocolate
Where in the flavour spectrum does this fit? My guess, given American tastes, is that it's somewhere towards the sweet end. There’s a couple of wild cards:

  • Sour Cream Chocolate
  • Triple Chocolate Fudge & Chip
Actually that last one sounds pretty damn good. But we’re five chocolates in and and we haven’t even got to the chocolate-plus-something-else flavours:

  • Chocolate Almond
  • Mint Chocolate Chip
  • Vanilla Chocolate Chip
Ah, vanilla. What could be more vanilla than vanilla? In the world of ice cream, plenty. Take a look at Dreyers’ range:

Dreyers Vanilla and French Vanilla ice cream.
  • Vanilla
  • French Vanilla
The general rule: wherever there’s vanilla, there’s also French vanilla. What’s the difference? I don't know. The wild card:

  • Vanilla Bean
Note however that the French Vanilla flavour also contains vanilla beans… And finally, if you really, really like vanilla, this is the flavour for you:

  • Double Vanilla
How on earth does anyone make decisions in the supermarket?

Maybe the couple we saw yesterday in Safeway, deliberating over the cake mixes for over ten minutes, were having trouble deciding which brownie mix to buy? I sympathise. The best way out of the swamp: buy whichever one’s on sale for a dollar this week.