Pomegranate Juice, $9.99; Truffle Oil, $25.99 ...
Shopping for the most expensive possible dinner for two at Whole Foods.
The Main Course
The meat department was where I expected my bill to spiral out of control. But, in fact, nothing really cost an arm and leg. (The latter appendage, formerly attached to lamb, was a scant $9.99/lb.) A top loin steak marinated in sauce from the famous Peter Luger steakhouse was going for just $16.99/lb. Veal cutlets for a mere $19.00. There were Chateaubrand center cut tenderloins, filet mignons, and New York state tenderloin steaks all for the same price, $29.99/lb. Nothing, at least when I was there, cracked the $30 mark, so I decided to grab a pound of that New York tenderloin. For seasoning, I went with the Wild Forest White Truffle Oil (as opposed to the black variety I used for the tuna, $25.99), and saffron ($3,196/lb, or $7.99 a jar).
Course total: $63.97
I was torn. Should I go with the chocolate-dipped orange peel at $25.00/lb? A handful of tiny chocolate pyramids from Christopher Norman at $4.00 each? My eyes alighted on a box of Knipschidt chocolates, promisingly labeled "71 percent diamonds." Was it possible some ingenious chocolatier had figured out how to make and market precious metals as desert? Alas—and this I should have realized from the bargain price of $19.99 for six—the percentage refers to cacao; the treats themselves are diamond-shaped. Disconsolate at the lack of edible precious gems, I decided to let myself eat cake, settling on a lovely 6-inch, $18.99 gateau au chocolat. I paired it with some Mariebelle hot chocolate for sipping, ($24.99 a tin), and a smattering of the aforementioned bonbons. One must have options. Even if they are all variations on the same flavor.
Course total: $74.23
I was shocked (but I must admit, also oddly delighted) to see that a pound of coffee from the very neighborhood coffee shop where I get my morning brew, Gimme! Coffee, was priced at a gouging $13.99/lb. I was about to throw it in my virtual cart when I realized that it was in fact edged out by some crazy-leftist-sounding outfit, the Asobagri Coop, which had prized its Brazil-Daterra Sunrise at a trophy-winning $15.99/lb. And in case my dining companion should be the weak sort who prefers tea, I added Rishi Tea's, $9.99 for herb-ginger, along with some honey (from New Zealand, guaranteed "kiwi kosher parve," $30.99) for sweetening the pot.
Course total: $56.97
Grand Total: $443.48
So for the same price as this homemade dinner for two, I could have dined at one of New York's most expensive establishments. This is, of course, not even a vaguely realistic price tag: I purposely padded the bill, at the cost of enjoyment. The dinner I wound up with sounds, frankly, a little disgusting. I'd almost certainly feel queasy after just the grab-bag appetizer. Of course, plenty of people regularly sacrifice taste for cost—only in the opposite direction.
The surprising thing to me, in completing this little exercise, was that much of the final dollar amount came not from the items that contained most of the calories, like the meat, or even from the produce—which aren't much more at Whole Foods than the same sorts of (sourceable, sustainable, yada yada yada) items would be at most grocery stores. It came from the sauces and the spices, and the extras like the hot chocolate and the honey.
Did I really need to ogle $443.48 of groceries to come around to the shocking conclusion that it's the luxuries in life that are expensive? Probably not, but no one needs to cook with truffle oil, either. Sometimes the pointlessness is the point.
Noreen Malone is a staff writer for the New Republic.