One night we were heading down La Brea Boulevard and happened to pass a 99¢ Only Store. As we drove by, we could have sworn that, through the window, we saw a section marked, “Gourmet Fancy Food.” Obviously, we knew we'd have to go back. What, exactly, is the 99¢ version of gourmet? We weren't exactly sure. So yesterday, we stopped in to get a closer look.

The answer, it turns out, is brand recognition. Because when you're shopping in a 99¢ Only Store, what could be more gourmet, or fancy, than a company you've actually heard of? Real C&H brand cane sugar; actual Vlassic pickles; genuine Campbell's pork and beans; and honest-to-goodness Prego pasta sauce. Del Monte certainly let it be known that they were a gourmet company, as did Swiss Miss and Tampico. And if you're trying to put together a gourmet, fancy dinner party on a tight budget, you need look no further than their Vienna sausages, canned oysters, canned scallops, and Hidden Valley ranch dip.

But what does it all actually mean? That the words “fancy” and “gourmet” are fairly irrelevant. While terms like “organic,” and “cage free” aren't as informative as they ought to be, at least they mean something. But “gourmet” and “fancy?” They mean, it turns out, absolutely nothing. Now if you'll excuse us, we have to drink some gourmet water from our Brita filter to help compensate for all that fancy Jameson we were drinking last night.

LA Weekly