Grocery stores are odd because they're still very much regional, despite the best attempts of Wal-Mart and Super Target to change that. When I was a kid I didn't think Florida grocery stores were so bad. Florida is dominated by Publix. And Publix looks very nice. Their stores are clean, bright and pretty, their ads are some of the most attractive grocery store circulars around (in part because they are so minimalist--hardly anything is on sale, really, but there is plenty of room to give you a recipe), and I still maintain that their bakery makes some of the best indulgently crusty-outside, fluffy-inside, delicious bread of any grocery store.
The only other grocery stores I saw were usually in the south. Piggly Wiggly? All I can say is oof. The first time I got an indication that perhaps Publix wasn't all that was visiting my friend in Cincinnati. We were making tom kha gai, and we went to a Kroger. I was skeptical that we'd be able to get the true ingredients to tom kha gai in a Kroger. I had to go to Dong-A to get them back home, and Florida has a sizable southeast Asian population.
But Kroger had everything, the coconut milk and the appropriate chile peppers. Even lemongrass. My reaction was something like, "What the hell?" Why did I have to go to a specialty market for this? Who in Ohio really needed lemongrass more than me? I also happened to notice that their Florida oranges were cheaper than in Florida. My friend told me Kroger was based out of Cincy. Fine, I thought. Maybe this is just their showpiece grocery store.
But no. The grocery stores alone are worth getting my foodie butt out of Florida. If you're living on really common sale stuff you probably could live anywhere. But if you want good food, dear god, this place is heaven. My before-work lunch this week has been salmon wraps, comprised of teriyaki wild salmon burgers tucked in a whole wheat wrap smeared with half an avocado, with a few halved cherry tomatoes and a touch of salt.
I could never have afforded those ingredients for daily meals back home. And for every $100 you spend you get 10 cents off gas at the store gas station. Plus sometimes there are coupons and double points. This week my grocery bill was easily 25% cheaper than it would have been at home AND I paid 3.05 a gallon to fill the tank.
I've also noticed there are hardly any fast food restaurants around. There are plenty of local independent places to get a meal for $5 or so, but I don't even know where the closest McDonalds is right now. My town has 3,000 people, plus more in the surrounding countryside, and zero fast food restaurants. I can't imagine Orlando having 3,000 people unserved by a fast food restaurant... I hope this never changes! The local food culture is very strong around here, especially from the Pennsylvania Dutch. The food stores are heavy on egg noodles, donuts, pretzels, pretzel bread, potato bread, potato chips, any kind of dairy products, any kind of seafood, pork products, especially sausages and bacon, sauerkraut, apple cider, and root beer. Makes me think I should start a farm just to keep from getting fat...
I feel compelled to go on about this because since I've wanted to move to Maryland I've heard a lot about how Florida is SO cheap and Maryland is SO expensive because Florida has low taxes. But so far that is nonsense. At least, out here in Washington County. (Most of Maryland, as I well know, has rather expensive housing, so there is that.) Yes, I will pay state and county income taxes here, but food, gas and insurance are much cheaper which easily offsets that. (Property and sales tax are about the same.) (And for me, entertainment is also cheaper, as there are a lot of inexpensive or free museums, AND all the county library systems appear to be open to any state resident, whereas Florida libraries are restricted by county.)