Products, products everywhere and not a bite to eat

I’ve lived in the ‘burbs for about 6 weeks now, and I’m slowly adjusting. I’m used to driving. I’m used to going up and down the stairs all day.  I’m used to the peace and quiet (sorta). BUT. I am not anywhere near being used to the grocery shopping.

The grocery stores here are enormous.  So, imagine my dismay after shopping at one the size of two city blocks, when I couldn’t find many of the things on my grocery list.

In the middle of September (in New York state for goodness sake!), not a single organic apple.

In the substantial meat department not a single organic chicken breast.

Aisles and aisles of snack food, but I could count on one hand the ones that don’t contain high fructose corn syrup, artificial preservatives, and/or artificial colors.

It was such a bummer.

Fortunately, our town has a wonderful farmer’s market and every Saturday we can stock up on fresh local produce, grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, fresh eggs.  Then later, I drive to the mega-mart to fill out my menu – milk and yogurt (they do carry organic dairy!), beans and pasta, bananas and clementines, some snack foods for the kids, etc.  It makes it all so much more bearable for me. Though each week, I do return from the store a tad depressed.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, but when I started jotting down ideas for this post last week I couldn’t really figure out what my point was, other than a rant about the abundance of processed foods in American supermarkets and a chance to gloat about my farmer’s market.

But then, it was Sunday again, and I was back at my mega-mart doing my weekly shopping. And finally it occurred to me why I feel so bummed out each time I shop there!  It’s because shopping there feels like a chore. I’m overwhelmed by the abundance and not inspired by the food. Perhaps because there are so many items that I feel we (and by “we” I mean humankind) shouldn’t be eating or perhaps because I’m disappointed in the produce section which is huge but offers surprisingly little variety (not to mention that the fruits and veggies, most flown in from Cali, Mexico, or Chile, don’t always look so fresh).  I have found little joy in my local mega-mart.  And there, surrounded by more food than my whole town could eat in a month, I feel little connection to the food.

On the other hand, when I’ve shopped at farmer’s markets, or in some of the better small NYC food stores, or online at NYC’s fantastic grocer Fresh Direct (oh, my beloved Fresh Direct, how I miss you!) I get a different feeling. It seems that the people who are selecting and selling the merchandise actually enjoy food as much as I do, and have put thought behind which products made it on the shelves, and which were dispensable. There are not 20 different types of granola bars available to me, but who needs more than just one good kind?

So, I suppose my point is this: When I feel connected to my food it doesn’t feel like as much of a chore to do the shopping, feed the family, clean up and do it again the next day. And it makes preparing healthy and minimally processed meals seem more doable and more enjoyable. I’d go so far as to say that the lack of connection to our food – and the lack of joy we experience from it – fuels America’s dismal dietary habits and obesity problems.

If your local supermarket (and busy lifestyle) is like mine it may seem hard to get that connection and enjoyment, but I encourage you to find a way. Here are some ideas that work for me:

  • Focus on whole, fresh, non-junk food for your meals and snacks, and try to prepare it simply, letting the flavors and textures come through.
  • Go to local farm stands or farmer’s markets whenever possible or, even better, grow some of your own fruits and vegetables in a garden.
  • Use your freezer wisely. Buy extra in-season produce (or something that you can’t find all the time in your community– grass-fed beef, sustainably harvested fish, etc) and freeze it. (Google it if you’re not sure the best way to preserve something.)  For example, make sauce of your August tomatoes and then enjoy it in the wintertime.
  • Plan your meals in advance and head to the store with a list. This will help you drown out the clutter (a whole aisle for just soda and juice drinks??!) but…
  • … be prepared to shift gears if something isn’t available or isn’t good quality. For example, if you get to the store and the greens are all wilted, choose a different vegetable.
  • And as you plan, think seasonally. I guarantee you that a bunch of asparagus purchased in November will not be as enjoyable as one found in late March.
  • Try to grocery shop without your kids if you can. Even if you’re a parent who finds it easy to say “No” (to “Mom, can I get Scooby Snacks?”, “But I LOVE Pop Tarts!!”, “Can we get the chocolate cereal?”, etc) it can still be really annoying!
  • Instead, involve your family in food growing and preparation.  I find that cooking with my kids infuses joy into the dishes, no matter what they are, and no matter where the ingredients were purchased.
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