Reading Between the Aisles

We are in trouble.

It might be obvious to all of you, but it hit me in the head like a brick the other day, and instead of seeing stars, a light bulb came on.

I get it now.

We just think we run our own lives.

Our lives are actually being run by the grocery stores.

Oh, but you probably already knew that, didn’t you?

I shop at the same few stores each time I go.  I know that the five pound bag of frozen broccoli florets can only be found at this store, where I also buy our favorite rice, because it’s cheapest there.  Another store has the best produce, and I prefer to purchase frozen vegetables at another.  It’s the third one that I am most familiar with.  It’s on the main drag to and from just about anywhere else I go, so I shop there the most.  I used to know it almost as well as the back of my hand.

Until they moved everything around a month or so back.  I’m still learning where some things are.  No, they didn’t bring in anything new, not sure what all the moving around was about.

So perhaps it’s the fact I’m having to watch things more carefully so I don’t miss something on my list the first time around, but I found myself paying closer attention when I was there last Friday. Or maybe it’s the fact that I’m having to change my eating habits almost completely, and I find myself searching for non-processed foods that I can eat and stay within the confines of this new diet.

Either way.  I saw the light.

It started in the produce section.  Lovely apples, bananas, carrots, lettuce, and so on.  But there right in the midst of it?

A slushy machine.  I kid you not.

It’s so bright and colorful that it never fails to capture the attention of my littles.  I always say no, and they are always disappointed.  I just wonder at the wisdom of placing that there.  Maybe they–the powers that be–figure we’ll all be feeling so good and healthy about the fresh fruits and veggies we’re buying that we’ll figure we deserve a sweet treat?

I have no idea.

About a fifth of the back aisles in the store are reserved for cookware, utensils, aprons, towels, etc.  All this is saying is you don’t have enough, you are ill prepared, what are you thinking, just assuming you still have that dish to cook in tonight?  Buy ME. I really do wonder at why so much space is devoted to things that could not represent a significant portion of their sales.  Could it?

I love that the red meat is on display on shelves, but the chicken I have to practically stand on my head to get it out of the refrigerated bins in the middle.  Wait.  No I don’t.

But the real discovery was in the freezer section. I was looking for some berries and some vegetables, and yes, they’ve moved stuff around in the freezer cases as well.  As I walked down the aisle with the “Vegetables” sign hanging overhead, I realized at least 2/3 of it was variation on frozen potatoes and bread.  The last 1/3 toward the back of the store did have small bags of frozen broccoli, cauliflower, peas, okra, and so on.  I was blown away.  Imagine how much healthier we could be eating if they increased their vegetable selection to at least 50% of the space or more!  Instead, it looked as if the healthier choices had been thrown in as an afterthought.  And those of us who don’t know any better could happily throw in the fries, tater tots, and hash browns and pat ourselves on the back for filling up our cart with vegetables.

As I searched for the frozen fruit, I walked up and down the aisle more than once until I found them.  One little pitiful section of frozen berries.  At the end of the ice cream aisle.  Subliminal messaging, anyone?

And speaking of which, what about the checkout lanes?  It’s like a conference for sugar and dyes and salts and fats all in one place, have you noticed?  They’re looking for a place to party, and most of the time, I would love to oblige them.  (But most of the time I don’t.)

It makes me sad.  It took me having to change how and what I eat for me to step outside the comfort zone of what I cook and shop for.  And when I did, I became aware of how much the grocery stores affect how and what we eat by what they offer, how they offer it, and the ease with which we can find it.  I was searching for something called Arrowroot powder.  I looked for a few minutes in the organic section and then in the baking section.  I didn’t know where else to look, and I didn’t make the time to ask someone at the customer service counter.  And so I left not being able to make a new recipe that would be a healthy dessert for us.  And that is just one example.

It seems that the grocery stores are offering us their “opinions” in the form of their options.  And we, as consumers, must do our thinking for ourselves–much as we do when we read the policies and beliefs of politicians before voting.  Only in this case we vote with our shopping dollar.  If we refuse to purchase the sugar-laden, full of dye, and unreadable ingredient products, maybe one day they will take them off the shelves.

And fill them with healthier choices.

I’m not trying to tell you how to shop or what to eat.  Just because I’ve been told to cut out all sugars and wheat and dairy, and just because all of this can make me more than a little grumpy, it doesn’t mean that I think everyone should have to join me in this new way of eating.  (Although misery does love company. But alas, there are no cookies.)  However, I do think we need to get real and recognize the power these businesses have in affecting our choices–if they spend much of their store space offering processed, high in unhealthy ingredients foods, then what other choice do we have?  Health food stores are not readily available or affordable to everyone everywhere.  Most folks have to make do with what is right there in their immediate area.

Which is another thing that makes me sad about my friends who are in need in Macon.  Many of them live closer to a “Food Mart” than they do a grocery store.  Without the transportation to get to and from a real grocery store with somewhat healthier options, it’s just not going to happen.  But that’s another soapbox I’ll step off of.  For now.

I’m just one person.  Maybe it doesn’t matter to anyone else.  But if it does–if you would rather have more healthy choices in your local grocery store, don’t be afraid to speak up.  Let them know what your preferences are.  (I once got Red Diamond Decaffeinated tea bags restocked in a store many years ago.  Long story, but suffice to say, your voice does count. And yes, they are the best.)

Our health is a very precarious and sometimes seemingly fickle thing.  We have to protect it and guard it at all costs.  Don’t listen to what the stores are trying to tell you.  What they give the most space to is not necessarily the best for you.  Neither are the things that are easiest to grab.  Step up and educate yourself, and then vote with your shopping dollars.  One day your body will thank you.

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