Tuesday, May 20, 2003
posted by Julie |
When you do the work of finding out what food additives human bodies in general and your body in particular don't take kindly to, you have entered the world of label scanning. It's interesting to walk into grocers large and small and note how people approach food packaging these days. The appealing package design has a matter of seconds to encourage a shopper to pick it up. But no design can overcome the news contained in the ingredients and nutrition panels on the package's flip side.
For me, when the package contains partially hydrogenated fats, palm oils, nitrates, sulfites, MSG, wheat flour, added sugars in all their many forms, the package goes wright back on the shelf. Those foods don't mix with my chemistry well.
Or that's the way grocery shopping worked for me until I learned that there are very few packaged products that I can eat. The occasional salt-cured proscuitto. Oats and barley. Rice. Nuts. I stopped picking up most packaged food altogether. So, when I shop, I hover around the edges of the grocery stores. Grocers plan their aisles by placing fresh food, the food that has the highest turnover, at the edges of the store, close to the cold storage and food processing centers on the other side of the walls. The stuff that will stay in packages for years goes to the middle aisles.
I crawl carefully, eyes shielded from the come-hither packaging, into those middle aisles once a month or so to get my grains and legumes, but on most visits, you'll see me running from the meat counter to produce, to dairy, to the door.
Living in Ireland for this month, we are a half-mile walk from the small grocers in a tiny harbor town. Our fridge is an itty bitty under-the-counter unit. In part because of space, in part because we never know how our plans will change, we have been shopping for groceries almost every day.
Because the store is small, and we know where everything is, shopping is fast, convenient, and the food is very, very fresh. We wast enothing because we buy just enough food for the day. We shop for meals. There aren't snack foods lying about, so we're not doing any mindless eating.
Back home, I'm in the American habit of buying a few weeks' groceries at a time. I seem never to learn how unworkable this is. But this is the way Americans want to shop. We have a pantry mentality, a chuck wagon mentality. We shop as if we're always about to head out across the prairie in a wagon train, and won't see a town for weeks or months or years. We build larders of food, fill huge freezers, stack cans and cans of things, enough to feed ourselves for weeks. Among our most successful shopping experiences are stores that sell bulk foods. Gigantic sacks of rice and pasta, gallon jugs of mayonnaise. It's depression-inspired, disaster-preparedness, pioneer-brained shopping. Though our families are getting smaller and smaller and stores more numerous, and despite that there is in any one day twice as much food available as we can possibly eat, we stock up. We can't stop.
And so American food manufacturers keep working on packaged foods that will last longer and longer on store shelves and in our pantries.
I don't know if we could collectively decide to undo all of this progress, leave the food chemists to focus more on safety than shelf life, but I know I feel better and keep my weight down when I shop for and eat fresher food, buying around the edges of the store, buying locally grown produce and meats when they're available, buying organically grown when I can afford to, shopping more often for less food. And not having dangerous-for-me, binge-prone foods on hand at night.
So. Here are some things to consider when we buy our food:
*Think of relaxing your notion of how much food you must have in the house. Consider buying enough just for a day or maybe two at a time.
*Buy food from local farmers' markets when you can to get the freshest possible food and to support your local growers.
*If you don't already, try shopping at your local fishmongers, cheesemongers, greengrocers, and butchers, if you're lucky enough to still have them.
*Those few remaining small, family-owned grocers make shopping for a few groceries more often a faster and more pleasant experience. Their prices may be a bit higher, but how much is your time worth? And they tend to be more responsive to their customers' tastes.
*Use your regular shopping time to plan that evening's meal around the best looking, freshest ingredients offered that day.
*If your budget can stand it, buy organic produce. We make changes in available foodstuffs only by voting with our dollars.
*If you're not already, consider reading the labels more carefully. Monitor the way your body responds to foods with various additives, and then shop armed with that knowledge.
*Is it possible for end-of-day shopping to become a pleasant, sensuous, unwinding from work, rewinding for home, transitional stop? Kind of a pressure chamber that carries you from one experience to the other? A way to connect with neighbors? I don't actually know the answer to this until I try.
I will if you will,
Shopping by the aisle
Longer shelf life pros. Yikes!