The hopelessness of generic foods - Rob Felt

Walking down the long colorful isles of a grocery store, we consumers are faced with countless choices at every turn. Whether it's the 35 types of toothpaste, 18 different boxes of macaroni and cheese or the 20 feet of shelving for cooking oils, we are forced to make considerations before putting anything in our baskets.

During these watershed moments in consumerism, I'd always been able to select by process of elimination. It was a simple formula n eliminate all of the generic store brands and decide between the two most well known competitors.

That beautiful matrix has been shattered.

As a child I was torn between the shopping styles of my mother and my father. One bought only branded items, and the other went for the cheapest possible solution that would get the job done. I'll let you guess which one was which.

For the longest time I placed myself on the branded side. Turning my nose up as I walked past those monochrome boxes, I honed in on the names and logos that I had seen on TV, as any good American consumer should.

Those wretched generic boxes, with their inferior packaging, looked like a mock-up project for a graphic design class' first assignment. Not to mention the quality of the contents shrouded within that cardboard skin. Icky!

A new sun has dawned on a new day.

For me, it started with pills n the gateway generic item. Tired of paying full price for my favorite headache medicine, I realized that two active ingredients could easily be reproduced by another company, and I tried it out. It worked. Darn.

That was a few years back, and it has been downhill ever since.

During a trip to the store recently, I purchased two different bottles of generic shampoo. "They could make my hair fall out," I would have reasoned before, but now I embrace those bottles, with their shape and coloration hinting toward the name brand products that they simulate.

Crackers, vegetables, sugar, socks, T-shirts, etc. I now go generic.

It is sensibility, or is it debt?

With credit cards and car payments weighing me down, there's no doubt in my mind that I was pulled in the generic direction for financial reasons. The products are often just as good, but never better and sometimes inferior, but I still make the risk.

The money crunch forces me do it, not some noble ideal to save a buck or to stick it to the corporate fat cats who pour so much money into advertising that their bottom line moves up.

At some point in the future, I won't be in debt (hopefully) and only time will tell if I stick to these frugal ways.

For now it's white box fever.

As comedian Chris Rock once joked, "no frills" foods are at least easy to understand and identify. A white box of white rice, with one simple word printed in black on the front, has only one line of text on the back: "Ingredients: look at the front of the box."

Rob Felt is the photographer for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or via e-mail at rfelt@henryherald.com .