What do you buy at the store?

Filed under: @ 9:24 am

This has been a long running thought process for me, mostly based on my concerns about my own diet and where the country is going in terms of food production and consumption.
A few months ago we caught the tail end of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. It was a wrap up show about Jamie Oliver’s attempts, over several weeks, to improve the basic nutrition and food education that was happening in a relatively impoverished elementary school in West Virginia. The kindergarten students that Oliver was interacting with hadn’t been able to identify which vegetable tater tots are made from. They knew tater tots, no problem, but where they came from? No idea.


And horrifying on several levels.
First on a linguistic level — a five year old hasn’t heard the word “potato” enough to be able to parse “tater” from that?
And second, and more disturbing, a five year old living in modern America is sufficiently unfamiliar with whole vegetables that they are unable to identify a potato when it’s shown to them?

I know for a fact that when I was that age I could have told you which vegetable a tater tot came from. Probably couldn’t have told you what a tater tot WAS, but I could have parsed out “tater” from “potato” and made an educated guess.

And anticipating Andrew’s scorn at what is for me a personal point of pride, that is, that I’ve never eaten a Hostess Twinkie, I will admit that the food I grew up eating was far, FAR different than that which my peers were eating. I’ve never had a slice of Wonder bread either.
So I grew up eating weird stuff… whole wheat bread, raw vegetables, fruit that wasn’t FROOT, oatmeal that didn’t come in a package, cereal that didn’t turn colors when you added milk, and milk that wasn’t chocolate.

I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I wanted desperately to be eating the same stuff that the other kids were eating, but I do appreciate it now. The fact that I grew up eating real food instead of synthetic has doubtless made a lasting impact on my development and my health as an adult.
And it’s a shame that in many (in most?) circles what I ate as a child would be considered “weird”. Absolutely outside the norm, yes, but what about a green pepper is more strange than, say, those horrid little “Froot Gushers”, those weird little clots of bright primary colored paste that squirt globs of tooth rotting goo when you bite them?
Why was my peanut butter on whole wheat, carrot sticks, and apple lunch “weird” when the baloney on paste board with a package of Twinkies was “normal”? And why is it now something of note when I eat hummus and flat bread with fresh vegetables for lunch and whole fruit for a snack? My fast food, Lean Cuisine (ergh! Nuked plastic!), Goldfish cracker and M & M snarfing co-workers are always astonished by my lunches. As I am, in my own way, of theirs.

Which brings me to the title of the post.

What do you buy at the store?
Andrew and I have had an ongoing discussion for several years now, the duration of the conversation being so long only because we only seem to have it when we’re shopping for food, about our grocery purchases versus those of the people around us. And we have decided that what we purchase to fuel our bodies isn’t food, it’s ingredients. The vast majority of what goes into our shopping carts is something that is going to be a part of something else, not a meal in and of itself. That, I think, is the problem. Too many people have too many opportunities to purchase STUFF that they can just shovel into their mouths to satisfy a hunger that they probably don’t even have.

Cooking takes time and those of us that work full time, to say nothing of those who are holding down jobs and raising kids, have little of it to start with. But I’m proud of the fact that we purchase ingredients. And if turning those ingredients into something that is pleasant to eat takes up my free time, I’m willing to make that sacrifice. I just wish I wasn’t preaching to the choir. Wanna come over and cook with me some day?

7 Responses to “What do you buy at the store?”

  1. YakBoy Says:

    Unsurprisingly we also tend to buy ingredients. One concession we have made is buying ingredients with some of the prep work already done. Sliced vegetables, chopped garlic etc. They tend to be more expensive but the time it saves is worth it for me. Plus the bags of pre-chopped vegetables that we get are pretty much the perfect amount to make a stir-fry for the two of us.

  2. Uncle Andrew Says:

    I’ll second the pre-sliced veggies thing. Trader Joe’s has become so much a part of the family that I’m tempted to invite it over for Thanksgiving. Pre-washed and chopped salad mixes, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and spinach are a godsend.

    And Margaret, my love, my life, my all: you are quite right in assuming that I would heap scorn on you for your steadfast refusal to ever bite into a Twinkie. This is not a point of pride; it is a point of shame. It casts you as an outsider, as foreign, as Other. Worse, it is an act of extreme recklessness on your part. Eventually the immunocules of the American sociocultural matrix will come around to noticing your presence, and will come to get you, overwhelming and consuming you like a dangerous infection. And I will be forced to stand by and do nothing, because this will be the proper reaction of a healthy ecosystem, and I will be powerless to intervene. To be sure, I will weep for your wholly avoidable demise, and tip a Strawberry Quik in your honor. 😥

  3. Valerie Says:

    Pssst….frozen Twinkies are pretty good. Straight outta the cello–not so much. But some sort of alchemy happens when you freeze them.

  4. Valerie Says:

    I, too, shop the edges of the supermarket, concentrating on ingredients. I only venture into the center sections for pasta, flour and sugar, tortillas, rice, tea, coke, seltzer, and the occasional box of poptarts. Hey, a girl’s gotta live!

  5. Uncle Andrew Says:

    I’m putting this one in for Dalek, who was caught and eaten by my security software:

    Like you, I have no comprehension how a school-aged child could *not* know that tater tots are made from potatoes. ???

    I’d say I’m a mix-shopper, myself. Yes, I shop at farmers’ markets and PCC and the like, I grow a fair number of veggies in my garden, and I buy a lot of raw ingredients. I almost always cook up some combination of “raw ingredients” into dinner, for example. (And I do find some pre-sliced veggies to be a blessing, particularly when they’re priced nearly the same as the whole ones.) But there are other things that I just cannot be bothered to make, or have found to be adequate substitutions for make-it-myself.

    Take, for example, breakfast. I get up too early to want to eat while I’m still at home, so breakfast is something I consume at the office. It tends to vary between yogurt (which I have made once, but until and unless I decide to shell out for a slow-cooker or yogurt-maker, I’m just as happy to purchase from the store) and breakfast cereal (Kashi does a nice seven-grain mix I’m fond of.) Yes, I might make a fancier breakfast on the weekends from raw ingredients, but then again, I might just settle for an English muffin with peanut butter as I dash out the door to (whatever).

    Other things I tend to buy instead of make: pita bread (for sandwiches), tortillas (I’ve made them from scratch on occasion, but again, lots of work), cheese (yes, it might be an ingredient, but it might also be a snack by itself), beef jerky, chocolate, rice cakes, smoked salmon… The list goes on. But then again, most of that isn’t “a meal in and of itself,” I suppose (or it had better not be, especially when it comes to chocolate).

    Still, I would say that while I almost always make dinner from raw ingredients, breakfast is usually something someone else made (like yogurt or cereal). Lunch is often leftovers from dinner, but is occasionally cafeteria food or healthy-soup-in-a-cup or something similar. So yeah, half and half. Would I cook/make more and buy prepackaged less if I had more time? Probably, but it seems unlikely to happen.

    Interesting subject to think about! And yes, I’d love to come over and cook with you sometime. (Also to pickle things, if I had any cukes to pickle, but alas, this doesn’t seem to be the year. Unless you want me to pick up some pickling cukes from the local farmers’ market this Thursday. They had ’em last week.)

  6. Dalek Says:

    A foul calumny! I was not caught and eaten by your security software. (Nor yet by zombies, vampires, or roaming packs of rabid weasels.) But thanks for posting the message for me. 😉

  7. Uncle Andrew Says:

    Hey that’s what you get for no-caching your Pragma. 😛

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