I’m in A Shame Spiral Because of These Trader Joe’s Products

Posted on
Jun 16, 2015

Nearly every week, I engage in the same stupidity.

I refer not to my tendency to watch DVR’d episodes of American Idol for hours on end (long after, I should note, the phone lines for voting have closed, making my behavior particularly inexplicable, even by reality TV standards). I stopped doing that in 2013, after my husband caught me unconsciously contorting my face in weird ways as the contestants sang. (This alarmed both of us.)

The weekly idiocy to which I refer is my ongoing commitment to shopping at Trader Joe’s. There, despite my better judgment, I spend countless dollars on half-composted produce and pantry items that were likely conceived of in a thinktank dedicated to fucking with hipsters.

“If we give it a cute name and cater to a dietary restriction that we’ve convinced them they have, they’ll pay $8 for muffins that taste like wood pulp.”

Photo via. Because sometimes reality is way funnier than the shit I can come up with.

I do this in part because I have the misguided impression that by shopping at Trader Joe’s, I’m supporting an independent neighborhood grocer. The reality is that the chain is owned by one of the wealthiest families in Germany, and their Wikipedia page includes the phrase “horse meat contamination scandal” and reveals that they once fired an employee for being HIV positive. Which sort of changes how I view the company.


But if you don’t know any of that, I can understand how Trader Joe’s might seem like food heaven, especially if you’ve been stranded on a desert island for years, or if you’re a vegan. Then the aisles filled with overripe produce, amorphous clouds of fruit flies, and tubs of hummus that are inexplicably covered in a patina of more hummus seem like a godsend.

For a few tender years in my twenties, when it was the only grocery store in walking distance, I would skip down the aisles gleefully, while disaffected Trader Joe’s employees carted out bags upon bags of diced butternut squash and wilted lettuce like tattooed, severely depressed Christmas elves.

And now, even though the years have taught me that I’d be better off getting my produce from a gas station, I still shop there. It might be nostalgia. Or frugality. Or Stockholm Syndrome.

Here is a brief list of products that I keep buying, because I am a well-intentioned moron.


Freeze-Dried Strawberry Slices

When I first discovered these, I excitedly grabbed a few bags, with the intent of adding them to cheaper variants of cereal and somehow saving money (a sort of flawed fiscal logic which is also to blame for the Great Depression and the rise and fall of Beanie Babies in the 1990s).



When dry, these former strawberries have the exact same texture as Lucky Charms marshmallows, which, in turn, have the exact same texture as chunks of styrofoam. But once you let them sit in milk for a while, their texture is magically transformed into “styrofoam that has been sitting in milk for a while.”

There are presently four of these bags sitting in my pantry. I keep buying them because I’m convinced it’s basically like printing money, which Rand says I can’t do anymore.


Green Onions That Deserved a Better End Than This

These were in my fridge at the same time because there is something wrong with me.

Green onions aren’t that expensive in the regular grocery store, but I can’t resist an entire bagful for a dollar. If you need some hints of how to use up that many green onions, here’s my favorite recipe:

  • Place green onions in vegetable drawer.
  • Forget them there for 3 weeks.
  • Blame your husband.


Huge Plastic Clamshells Full of Basil That I Will Never Finish

At $3.99, these are a total bargain compared to the much smaller containers of basil they sell at the regular grocery store. The problem is that, much like Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, there is no way you are ever going to get through it. I have finished a pack of Trader Joe’s basil exactly once, when I got slightly drunk and decided I needed to make enough pesto to fill a bathtub.

I know what you’re thinking – That’s awesome. A bathtub full of anything edible is the American dream. And to that I would yell, “YES, unless it’s pesto, which is never as good as you think it’s going to be, and then you have a bathtub of it and your poo will be green for the next week.”

So I usually just leave the basil in my fridge until it ends up looking like regurgitated kelp.



Trader Joe’s should be commended for pioneering a remarkable new variety of garlic that contains no cloves whatsoever. It’s composed entirely of garlic skin, so you save yourself the trouble of peeling or chopping, and can just throw the entire bulb directly into the trash.

They tend to be slightly more expensive than ones from the regular grocery store, but you are paying for convenience.



Quinoa (or, as my aunt pronounces it, corn-wah-wah) is just like rice, except that it’s a lot harder to cook and tastes a lot worse, because it’s better for you. So whenever I go to the store, I pick up a bag. And then I realize I hate quinoa, and never make it. And then I read some article about quinoa being good for you, and I go back to the store and buy more quinoa which I WILL NEVER EAT BECAUSE IT IS TERRIBLE.

These are actually in my house right now.

Dante was wrong: the seventh circle of hell is ancient grains.


Miscellaneous Baking Ingredients for Dietary Restrictions That I Don’t Have

I grew up in the 80s, before people had dietary restrictions. The only person who had a food allergy was my friend Giselle (you probably have heard of her. She’s that one girl who had a food allergy in the 80s). At birthday parties, Giselle would quietly enjoy a fruit plate while the rest of us rammed cake and Cheetos into our mouths like squirrels in mid-winter.


That sort of widespread bacchanalia ended sometime around 2006, when scientists traced the root of all crime directly back to dairy products. Convinced that a restrictive diet will absolve me of all my sins, I regularly buy things like coconut flour and gluten-free oats, because maybe wheat is the reason why I have acne and yell at the television and forget to pay the credit card bill.

Spoiler: it’s not.


Mini Tomatoes

I swear to god, these things look absolutely gorgeous in the store. Then I get them home, and they age faster than that dude from Indiana Jones who drinks from the wrong grail.

I think I keep buying them because watching them wither while I stay relatively young is the closest feeling I will ever have to immortality.


Organic Baby Broccoli

I buy these weekly.

If they aren’t available in your area, you can always head into the backyard and eat a few twigs.

It’s basically the same thing.


Trader Joe’s Blue Corn Tortilla Chips

These are amazing. I’ve checked the ingredients, and even though they’re made of mostly just corn and salt, these chips taste exactly like paper. At first I thought I just got a bad batch, but I’ve bought them numerous times (because idiocy) and now I’m pretty convinced that this is what Trader Joe’s wants them to taste like.

I’m sure that a relaunch of this product with a clever new name is forthcoming.


Sanity-Shattering Bouquets

If you buy flowers from a regular grocery store, (or, for those of you who are just pooping out money, a florist), you’ll usually just get, well, flowers. But not if you buy a bouquet from Trader Joe’s.

If you take home of any of their flowers, you get – free of charge, I might add – a fruit fly colony starter kit. In just a few days, you can have your very own swarm of nature’s telemarketers (as I like to call them) covering every surface of your kitchen. And if they become too much for you, don’t worry – you can just pack up all your worldly possessions and move (take note: in California and Oregon, your home now legally belongs to the flies).


I do this almost every single week. You’d think I’d learn my lesson. But today, I made my grocery list. And I swear, I didn’t alter it for comedic effect. This is my actual list:

Basil. Green onions. Mini tomatoes.

There is something seriously wrong with me.


P.S. – I’m pretty sure the free samples that they give out at my local store are tequila shots. Because I have no other explanation for why every single person in the parking lot is driving like they are shitfaced. Layouts like this do not help:


Leave a Comment

  • Alissa Kolarik

    This happens with Target and I. We have a love hate relationship that involves me going there at lunchtime whilst hungry and stocking my personal snack drawer at work full of random things I won’t eat. Which would be why I have had a giant vat of up & up protein powder, pb2, and a brand new shaker bottle sitting in my desk drawer for a good three months, unopened. Also, quinoa is the worst food on planet earth. I don’t believe anyone who says that they enjoy it. Can that trend go away now?

  • Andrea Singer

    Don’t forget, quinoa is also a lot less ethical than regular ol’ rice which enhances the wanty needs even more.

  • Colleen Sweeney

    I buy pad Thai there, since it’s the closest to the pad Thai I get from a restaurant. Being lactose-intolerant, I have go places where there isn’t dairy or milk by-products in everything. I’ve sometimes found good things at Trader Joe’s, but not always. And thanks for the heads up on the flowers!

  • Vikki Fraser

    You need a small garden, nothing crazy, but onions, basil and cherry tomatoes are easy to grow and ready when you are. You can use the quinoa and bran muffins as compost 😀

  • Molly McElroy

    I think I shop at the same store…ever scrape your car against one of the cement pillars? The parking garage is soooo cramped. That’s an extra kick in the pants.

  • You gotta try their black bean and quinoa tortilla chips. Really! I
    think they taste better than most chips anywhere (much better than the
    paper product you refer to!) and I’m hoping the quinoa makes them much
    healthier! And I SO-O-O agree about the drivers in the parking lot. We live in a big retirement area and the seniors around here will drive right over you if you get in their way!

  • Tiffiney Lozano

    OMG. Yes, I’ve been in DENIAL that the tortilla chips have no taste! Well, you’ve lifted the veil on my blindness!

    Thanks for the giggle!

  • I’ve spent many a moment lamenting that Trader Joe’s is yet to make it to the UK – I figured that if I bought all the random crap I regularly buy in Wholefoods there, I might save a few pennies! Thanks for the giggle, not many blog posts make me laugh out loud 🙂


  • Ariana Adams

    The only isles in Trader Joe’s worth any time are the cookie and ice cream isles. 🙂

  • Lyn Never

    Things to buy at Trader Joe’s: 1) cookies 2) ice cream 3) wine and liquor 4) frozen spinach with polenta plops 5) roasted gorgonzola cheese crackers 6) summer rolls with peanut sauce, but only if you’re going to eat them within 90 minutes. Also they have the best reusable grocery bags.

  • Jen Rawson @ Pretty Little Gru

    This is hilarious as always. We don’t have trader joes here so when I go in the US it’s simply for cookie butter, cookies & cowboy bark. Those do in fact taste good and never get wasted in my house!

  • Olga Andreyeva

    Their frozen section is godsent for parties. Like delicious cakes and appetizers in minutes.
    Luckily there are 3 grocery stores closer to me than TJ so I usually don’t buy anything that is more expensive there. (although my roomates swear that everything at TJ is cheaper and lasts way longer)

  • Jerusha

    This post doesn’t just make me want to comment (and I have so many comments in my head I can’t even begin to pick one or two to keep it to a respectable sized comment), it makes me want to come visit you and talk about Trader Joe’s for a whole day.

  • Christina C

    But they have great cheese at a reasonable price. It’s all about the cheese. Oh and the orange chicken 🙂

  • Melissa Behrens

    I mainly go for the wine. That’s pretty much it.

  • KateMorris

    I do NOT miss that garage. It’s hell. The same hell with ancient grains.

  • SavHemmings

    I can’t read The Everywhereist and drink any sort of beverage at the same time. Why? Because an explosive sort of drink monsoon will explode from my mouth all over my laptop. Cause of the monsoon in this particular article: Her aunt’s pronunciation of Quinoa. Corn-wah-wah is the reason there is luke-warm coffee sprayed across my screen. I’m not even mad, I’m still laughing.

  • So stop buying those things, you have no one to blame but yourself. The Traders in my town is nice, no flies or rotting produce. And the flowers are good, usually last a long time. Buying things that you don’t use or need, over and over, is just silly.

    • kitten.mittons


      • Cute pic, maybe I’ll borrow it sometime. Not sure how I missed your point, unless you were just trying to be funny and we weren’t really supposed to believe that you really have four bags of freeze-dried strawberries in your pantry or that you keep buying a food product that you dislike intensely. 😉 What exactly was your point, that I missed? That they aren’t a neighborhood grocer or that you can’t control your shopping behavior when you go inside? Or that you bought the marketing campaign, hook, line and sinker? Your title includes the words shame spiral, and I think this is your line: “Here is a brief list of products that I keep buying, because I am a well-intentioned moron.” No one is making you buy quinoa! Buy better stuff – it’s in there. Or go someplace else.

        • kitten.mittons

          I am not the author. I posted the picture because she was clearly writing a humor piece (admittedly not the funniest I’ve ever read, but the tone is clear!) and your response was to chide her…so it seemed like you weren’t getting that the point of the piece was not to whine, but to poke fun. She was joking about a seemingly universal experience—the way we continue to buy products we’ve had bad experiences with because we hope they’ll be better (or perhaps we hope *we’ll* be better and suddenly, miraculously, develop a taste for ground flax) the next time. It’s why I still buy Trader Joe avocados, because I love avocados and clearly haven’t learned from experience that they’re always brown and stringy at TJ’s, even if they feel ripe. It’s an admittedly stupid thing to do, but many of us have done it, and she was self-deprecatingly pointing out the silliness of it all. Nearly every commenter on the page got the joke, but I was responding to you telling her she “has no one to blame but [her]self.” If it wasn’t your intent to be disparaging, that certainly wasn’t clear from the tone of your comment.

  • Breanne Swim

    I bought a pack of cheese enchiladas from Trader Joes that sat in my freezer for over a year because I could never bring myself to eat them if there was anything else available.

  • Chalo Cantero

    hahaha loved the bit on allergies… Until I went to the US in 2001 I hadn’t met anyone allergic to bees or peanuts either. However celiac desease in quite common where I’m from (Paraguay) and there are sections dedicated to gluten-free products in supermarkets since I can remember…

  • Jessica Voigts

    Remember the J Peterman catalog? I bought way too many clothes because I visualized myself on the Orient Express in a dress they sold for way too much, or hopping into a taxi, gorgeous raincoat flaps a flapping ($289.99, taxi, rain, and NYC not included). I feel the same way about the TJ’s catalog. Great writers! But this? Reality!!

  • Vicki

    Four words: peppermint chocolate sandwich cookies. I crave them during the holidays and am so sad when they’re gone. I realize I could just eat peppermint oreos, but then I wouldn’t get the whole TJ experience …

  • Hilarious! The last time I was in a Trader Joe’s I bought a bag of turkey jerky because the fitness trainer at the gym said it was a tasty protein snack. Let’s just say I’ve since decided to steer clear of dietary recommendations from this person. It was disgusting. So, naturally I decided to use it for dog treats. Considering my dogs will literally eat crap they find on the ground, this seemed like a no brainer. Needless to say, they didn’t bite. Add turkey jerky to your list of things not to buy.

  • Andi Plummer

    Does every TJ’s have the same parking lot? I shop in one in Oakland and pretty sure that’s the same parking garage- I get anxiety just thinking about it.

  • Stuart M.

    TJ’s really isn’t that bad. Whenever I’m in America, I always go there. Yes, they don’t have name brand stuff, but that’s the strategy. House brands are cheaper and you get more. I would always get a big container of their small figs and eat them in one sitting. Nothing wrong, except for the weight I put on. Their fruit is not overripe! No, I don’t work for TJ’s. The employees are NOT disaffected. On my brief visits to America, they were the only ones who spontaneously made small talk with me at the cash register. Maybe they were told they had to, but it still made my day. I read somewhere that their wages and benefits are way better than most grocery stores. I can understand the author is annoyed at his/her tendency to buy too much. Is that the fault of TJ’s?

  • Emily

    Every time its whiteboard Friday over at Moz, I find myself here, every damn Friday you’ll find me hunched over my desk, shaking violently, tears streaming down my cheeks from laughing. I’m trying to convince my co-workers that canonicalization is actually HILARIOUS and that’s why I’m laughing. – I work in an open plan office and i realise im not fooling anyone. I think you’re bloody brillant btw.

  • I go to Trader Joe’s because they have Kerrygold butter cheap. While I’m there I end up buying Wasabi Seaweed Papers, because I need to stock pile salty/spicy snacks apparently. And Persian Cucumbers because they are such a deal. And then they rot in my fridge.

  • Jena8ly

    I personally love quinoa, and am far from granola. I usually make a one pan mexican quinoa. Just brown some meat, dump 1 cup of uncooked quinoa, a can of rotelle, some southwest corn, a can of black beans (rinsed and drained), and usually a bottle of what ever beer is in our fridge. Bring it all to a boil then reduce the heat to a low simmer for about 20 min. Freaking awesome.

  • Alyse

    One time I brought back an entire bag of unopened products that had expired/I forgot to use, and Trader Joe’s was so sweet and refunded all of them. Some had been marked down because they were seasonal, but if that happens to you again, try it. Even store credit would have worked for me (and it’s what I expected). They are great about letting you return things if you don’t like them, and I’ve never had a receipt for a return. You’ll probably still be in this shame spiral for some items, but the others you can get a refund on!

  • thats a good thanks for sharing

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