You eat really healthy, said the nice checkout lady at ShopRite as I fished around for my credit card, baby dangling from the other arm.

We try, I laughed.

The grocery store, man. It is an alternate universe. One in which the Enquirer at checkout seems totally plausible.

Actually, I’d kind of lost my bearings on this shopping jaunt, breaking my unspoken rule that chicken nuggets are an out-and-about treat and buying the frozen, microwavable breaded bites of child crack, a lazy bribe in case my four-year-old starts up again that “I don’t want to go to school today” business. I got some snack goldfish and (sweet potato, but still) chips. Stuff we don’t usually have, but playdates are happening more, and when Kai’s little friends come over, I don’t want to be the lame house with no good snacks AND no TV.

I could make playdate snacks from scratch, of course, like these banana-oatmeal-chocolate chip nut-and-seed “cookies” that another mom puts out. These “cookies” – in quotes because there’s no sweetener but bananas – are nonetheless so delicious that it requires the utmost self-restraint to avoid sticking my face in the plate. Instead I wangle an extra one away from the baby when no one’s looking. I intend to whip up such wholesome goodies, every week. And I would follow through on that intention if I were in fact “the best mom.”

(Kai sometimes asks: Who do you think is the best mom? And I milk it, naming a couple moms like the “cookie” making goddess who truly deserve the crown, and then I come to myself, and Kai says yes! And I act like I’ve just won an Oscar.

Who, me?! No. Really? You’re too kind.

Kai then expects me to say that she’s the best kiddo, which of course I do wholeheartedly. And baby Juno, we add diplomatically.)

I get a private chuckle out of this bit because if there were a game show featuring mom skills I’d get voted right off that island. I’m middling at best. You can ask the other adult in my house, husband Joe. I’m kind of a slob. He does the lion’s share of the cooking and the cleaning, the stuff that is the most demanding and selfless demonstration of love. I’m disorganized. Like, my license is currently suspended for logistical reasons but I drive everywhere anyway (by the time this comes out, the situation should be rectified. Alternatively, I could have gotten pulled over and be in serious hot water.)

But if there’s one mom skillset where I can hold my own, I’d call it the Food Acquisition Department. It’s a multifaceted sector whose responsibilities involve hunting down markets from the mainstream to the cart by the side of the road you got lost on looking for gas. It entails examining fruit like a born European: like the Godfather was doing when he got shot, or like Maria does with the Von Trapp children while they’re wearing lederhosen made of repurposed curtains in the Sound of Music. We buy our apples and onions here, milk and yogurt there (and a donut) there, meat there, blueberries from the farm market at the rest stop. This kind of shopping lights up every region of my ADD brain.

Being head of the Food Acquisition Department also involves growing food – all the time, everywhere, inside, outside, at home, even at work, where I’m oh so slowly winning over hearts and minds and we’ve now got apple trees in the parking lot and black currant bushes just beyond it. Joe’s gotten into it too and now does much of the heavy lifting in our garden, and our haul’s getting bigger with each passing year: enough veggies to put up for the winter; eggs and chicken and chicken stock; maybe, finally, some peaches this summer. And foraging is my forte: pulling the car into a drainage ditch to jump out and fill every available hat and cup with wineberries that stain them crimson.

These first two categories make up an ever greater portion of the Food Acquisition Department’s haul, but the grocery store remains an indispensable third leg of this stool. I’m sure you can raise kids on slow food – I mean, the Native Americans did – but I don’t know if you can do it in 2017 in a household where both parents work.

When I find myself at ShopRite I get the feeling I’m taking an unholy shortcut, but I’m grateful, all the same, that I can buy 10 boxes of Ronzoni pasta for .79 cents each (what!), or 10 boxes of granola bars for $10 (what!), a grab-and-go buffer against hangry meltdowns that can turn a family car ride into the seventh ring of hell. That I don’t have to wait ‘til June for strawberries, or raspberries, or blueberries, or blackberries or… Even in season, to forage enough berries for a satisfying family snack takes an hour, and you’re all scuffed up and possibly tick-bitten after. The grocery store takes the brutishness out of life, but taken too far, it makes us soft. Let’s be honest: we’re turning into pansies who prefer not to peel our own garlic.

Sometimes I spot a kindred spirit at the grocery store, looking rough and out of place under the fluorescent lights. The last time I was there, I sensed those vibes emanating from a guy with a gray ponytail and sky blue eyes who stopped to talk to baby Juno. On our way out, after the checkout lady’s compliment that left me wondering what the hell most people eat, the gray ponytailed man handed me a card.

I saw you buying organic, he said. We grow this stuff right here. He nodded to the big old bag of carrots in my cart. We’ve still got carrots, he said.

I know you, I said. No name on the card, just Blooming Hill Farm, but now I recognized Guy Jones, the gruff back-to-the-lander who’s still doing it.

He scurried away, and I put his card in my pocket, mentally linking carrots to this Jerry Garcia lookalike, loving this place where I live, grateful for all these beautiful little farms, and also for the safety net called ShopRite.