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.

Childbirth is Easy…..or Crazy Things Doctors Say

Jan Steen "A Doctor and His Patient" (1625/1626–1679) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jan Steen “A Doctor and His Patient” (1625/1626–1679) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It has been just over a week since I sat with this sweet person I love and heard one doctor and then another tell her, “Well, I hate to assume you’ll need to have a c-section.  Especially after you’ve had such easy births.”The first time, my ear twitched and I replayed it in my mind.  Did I really hear what I thought I just heard?

And then a second doctor came in and said basically the same thing.

I had the most amazing high school math teacher, Miss Bell, who taught my Daddy, my aunts, my uncle and my cousin before me.  She was intimidating and wonderful all at the same time.  When you gave her an answer that was obviously way off track, she’d move her glasses on her face, give her head a shake, and say, “Do what?”

When I heard those doctors, I pulled a Miss Bell.

Excuse me?

And yes, both of these doctors were men.  I’m not a man-hater at all, but in the philosophical words of Taylor Swift, I say to these men doctors, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”

Childbirth, easy?  Dude (sorry, that sounds disrespectful)…..Doctor Dude, you don’t have a clue.

First of all do the math.  (Sorry for the TMI here, but obviously there’s some that don’t get it.)  Something this size (picture my finger and thumb pretty close together) has to increase to something this size (about a fist, right?) and then something this size (grapefruit) has to squeeze through it, all while your body is trying to convince itself to turn inside out and your brain is on fire.

What. on. Earth.  Easy, my big toe.  Natural, okay.  But easy?  Never.

I remember a discussion of childbirth on a sitcom many years ago–“Murphy Brown,” I’m pretty sure it was.  It has stayed with me and that’s all I could think about last week.  I think I have this right–I apologize if I’m off.  (I looked and looked and I can’t find the story verbatim.)  If I recall correctly, Murphy was stressed about having her baby.  It was either in discussing an epidural or a c-section that she moaned and said, “I want to have this baby naturally.”  And someone, don’t remember who but she had sense and sass, said something like, “Honey, unless this baby comes out of your ear, it’s all natural.”

Exactly.

Thus my frustration with the doctors pushing for a “natural” childbirth (because it’s been so EASY) rather than a c-section.  It’s great if it can happen, but this baby was breech and Mama was in labor.  I had been trying to relieve the anxiety about a potential c-section for this sweet Mama, and they had to come in and start it all over again.  I had two by c-section, neither by choice, and it was fine.  None of it was easy, but it was all okay.

My own OB/GYN whom I have known for eighteen years now (oh how it has flown) once mentioned to me that if I quit drinking my sweet tea I would  be able to lose some weight.  Dude.  Excuse me, Doctor Dude.  I just told you I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, and the tea is decaf.  What will you have me give up next?  Chocolate?  Naps?  Not gonna happen.  A friend asked me why I didn’t change doctors then and there.  Eh.  He’s a good guy.  He tries.  But he just doesn’t get it.  He don’t know what he don’t know.  And I pity him for that and he knows it.  We laugh it off and move on.  Besides, he delivered my oldest.  That’s a bond I can’t easily let go of.  So I call him on his ignorance from time to time.  It’s a great relationship.

I saw a doctor once who wanted me to come back three days in a row to have my blood pressure checked.  With my children in tow.  Umm, yeah, because that won’t skew the test at all, will it?  All I could think was “aren’t you precious?” and “won’t the bp monitor at CVS do just as well?”  Then there was the time I went in and saw a new doctor about what I suspected was pinkeye.  Cooter was little and in a stroller sitting next to the exam table where I sat. When the doctor caught sight of my little guy there, he stayed as close to the door as possible.  He would not come close and look at my eye.  At all.  In a moment of mischievousness, I asked him to come and look at something that was pulling in my finger.  (In truth I had not worried much about it before, but I seriously wanted to see if he would even walk two steps away from that door.  He finally gave in and did.)

Not all doctors say or do crazy things.  I had one doctor who, in the face of what could have been interpreted as heart issues, talked to me, the whole person–body, mind, soul, and spirit.   She talked to me about fear and anxiety and worry.  And when she figured it would be okay to do so, she shared a bible verse with me.  Crazy?  No.  I still carry that moment with me today.  That day she gave me control over what was happening to me.  In a mind over matter and stepping outside of myself to see the big picture kind of way.  Another doctor, many years ago in my previous life, was treating me for something that was very likely stress related.  It wasn’t what he said, it was what he did.  He listened.  And he heard me.  And then he reached over and kissed me on the top of my head and patted my shoulder.  He had known me a long time and he knew the situation at home.  In some situations that would not have been appropriate, but in that one it was comforting and it spoke volumes to me.  He knew, he understood, I wasn’t crazy.  In that moment, the healing of my spirit began.  And I eventually became strong enough to do what I had to do to make my life better.

They’re not a bad bunch, doctors.  I appreciate them.  I trust them.  For the most part.  But I also use my brain, my common sense, and my voice.  I learned from a dear friend who is living with MS that you have to be a good advocate for yourself.  And for those you love.  No one else will be.  In her book “Cancer Shmancer” Fran Drescher talks about her over two years and eight plus doctors journey of undiagnosed symptoms before she was finally diagnosed and treated for uterine cancer.  She had to be persistent and a good advocate for herself.  So yes, I trust them, but they are human.  I was particularly fond of one pediatrician who told me, when I took Cooter in because he was having regular leg aches, “I can’t find anything, but I want you to keep listening to your Mama voice in your head.  That’s the best tool we doctors have.”   I wanted to hug him.

And in the end, I guess that’s really what I want out of a doctor.  To be able to trust him or her, to have confidence in my doctor, and to have a relationship–but most importantly I want to feel heard and that I’m an important part of the team handling my care.  Yeah, it doesn’t matter where the paper hanging on the wall came from, as long as his or her heart is in the right place.