Tuesday, June 26, 2012
At the Supermarket
As a kid, I remember opening my mother's fridge, hanging off the door handle, and whining, "But there's nothing to eat."
This wasn't the true. What I really meant was, there's nothing I want to eat.
Big difference. Sure there were apples and oranges and bananas left out for the taking. There were nuts and my mother's homemade bread.
But sometimes a kid just wanted that toxic blast of SUGAR.
We'd get it when we visited my dad's relatives, a hefty blue-collar bunch, as wide as they were tall, and generous to a fault--my favorite side of the family. There was no end to the sugar rush. Coca-Cola was offered like water, candy was there for the taking. Salad involved a lot of mayo, whipped cream, and jello. And then the mental sugar of TELEVISON (which we didn't have), and no restrictions on how much we watched The Three Stooges, with our Cokes and piles of candy in front of us. Kids' paradise.
My mother was ahead of her generation, though at the time in my book, she was as outdated as they came. Her vegetable bin had actual fresh vegetables, and sometimes the carrots actually had green fringes dangling off the ends. And if she bought beets, she cooked the greens! I mean, really! And there were nuts and fruits and milk and orange juice.
What, no potato chips? No Coke? No Ding-Dongs? At my friends' houses I couldn't wait for the cornucopia of sweets, salts, and fats to make their appearance. Thank God for Fritos and Lay's Potato Chips, and Snicker's bars! Thank God for processed foods, sugared cereals, and TV dinners. Thank God for eating yourself sick.
At my house, dinner meant something cooked from scratch. And "snack" meant popcorn. Dessert was ice cream, but only after you'd had all your dinner, which along with the main course, included vegetables and salads.
Years later, I am grateful to my mother. There isn't a vegetable I don't love. There's almost nothing I won't eat. And I'm a very happy, food-loving, omnivorous vegan.
Tonight I made one of my rare trips to the supermarket. "Supermarket" in Bloomington means either Kroger's or Marsh, or the one closest to me, O'Malia's. I should be used to it now, but I'm not. I travel up and down all those aisles choked with processed items wrapped in plastic, boxed, and canned, full of high fructose corn syrup, heart-stopping levels of sodium, additives, preservatives, and at least 15 ingredients I can't pronounce, and I'm the kid again saying, "There's nothing to eat."
Only this time, it's the stuff of my mother's fridge I crave. My cart is empty until I turn the corner to "fruits and vegetables."
The general produce is never local, most of it shipped from out of state. It's also almost never organic. There may be a few limp greens or lettuce that are labeled organic, but the bulk of the produce is eerie looking. The vegetables and fruits are over-sized, too bright and shapely, often waxed, and heavily sprayed. They look nothing like what I grow in my organic garden. And they're expensive. And all that "saving" they advertise? Caveat, emptor. What's being saved?
A friend of mine just told me that her daughter attended a 4-H camp this summer where all the food was vegan. Huh? I said. 4-H vegan? She said indeed it was true, that the camp had figured out that serving whole foods was cheaper than serving---well----meat, and processed foods. The irony still lingers. 4-H, which teaches children to raise farm animals and then trade on their affections by selling them when they're nice and fat to slaughterhouses, feeds vegan food at camp, but not for ethical reasons, but because they've figured out it's cheaper.
What strikes me as deeply sad is that in the richest country in the world, we have the largest childhood mortal obesity problem (not to mention adult mortal obesity), while we have an excess of supermarkets that offer aisles and aisles of crap, but very little "real" or "whole" foods. (In poor inner-city neighborhoods and rural areas, there's nary a "market" of any sort to be found, other than the corner liquor store also offering over-priced canned pork and beans, or the local gas station with its racks of chips and candy).
When I walk into these so-called "supermarkets," I have a freak-out moment because I don't recognize much of what is there. This is because there's very little "real food" in supermarkets. What Americans have grown accustomed to is row upon row of packaged, processed foods, so removed from the source that they have to give it special names that involve words like "bits" and "fingers" and "puffs." Frozen tator tots don't look or taste anything like a real potato dug out of the ground. Every since the first TV dinner reared its ugly little head in the early 50's, convincing the American housewife that this was the culinary time-saving wave of the modern future, we have fallen victim to the perverse machinations of greedy corporations selling us absolute crap labeled as "food." Why? Because they make so much more money doing so.
Some years ago, Nestle's was busted over a terrible scandal in Africa. They had gone into countries where women routinely breast-fed their babies, and where the water sources were highly contaminated, yet convinced these women that their babies would be better off drinking Nestle's formula to "protect" their children, using---well, yes---the contaminated water. Healthy babies suddenly sickened, ended up with dysentary, and died horrible, slow deaths.
Supermarkets are scary places. You don't have to go to McDonald's to get "fast food." It's right there at the supermarket. I don't even recognize probably 80 percent of the products sold. And yet hard working people go in every day and fill up their carts with over-priced products, believing they're buying "food." Maybe there's a reason so many pharmacies can be found right in supermarkets. Supermarkets sell stuff that makes us sick. We go to the doctor who prescribes medication for us to buy at the pharmacy. And then we're back at the supermarket picking up a few more items. It's a vicious cycle.
Supermarkets are only part of the "food crisis" in America. Our food system is very broken, from the corporate farming that has stolen the livelihoods of small farmers and created growing practices that have nothing to do with healthful foods, but profit. Let me say two words: Monsanto and GMO's. This is why it's even more imperative nowadays to shop at local farmers' markets, if you're lucky enough to be able to get to one in your area, and buy local produce if it's available, and try to grow your own, even if it's just a pot of tomatoes and a few greens. Community gardens are also a great option, collaborative, and inexpensive, usually with water sources and sunlight in full supply. When you start to eat "straight from the garden" and "straight from the trees," you'll be amazed at the flavor, and you might even feel the difference in your body!
I keep wanting to write a sci-fi story about how evil aliens plotted the demise of Earthling by cleverly setting up modern supermarkets. Wait, maybe it's not so sci-fi after all. We have a government that spends a lot of time and tax payers' dollars keeping us occupied with "outside terrorist threats." The biggest threat to this country is not terrorism, but our collective bad food habits and subsequent horrible health issues, caused, in part, not just by our own individual choices, but the absolute corporatization of our very broken food system.
We are what we eat.
P.S. This is not food:
Posted by Alyce Miller at 6:39 PM