17 December 2010

Pass the artisan sea salt, asswipe

It may not surprise you all that much to learn that I do a fair amount of my grocery shopping at a “natural food store”.  I do, after all, live in Colorado, a state that is just littered with these places; furthermore, since I tend to eat more tahini, tempeh, and other oddities than the average Safeway shopper, it’s my only choice for said items.  I do not delude myself into thinking I’m something special for going to Sprouts instead of King Sooper’s (that’s a weird name for a store though, right?), nor do I take my shopping choices lightly.  My desire for healthy (and sometimes very fatty but exotic) food is often in direct conflict with my extreme cheapness as a human being.  

Can't you just imagine what a good
person you'd be if you shopped here?
And so it is with some trepidation that I venture out to Sprouts every week, where the floors are a blonde “beechwood” (I think they’re fake), the lighting is a mellow, earth-friendly shade of fluorescent, and all of the magazines and the skin care products have that certain smug look to them.  The sense of pride in identity when I enter these stores is palpable to me, and a fair number of the Mercedes-driving, Dansko clog-wearing, manicured and frosted clientele around me seem to be buying it along with their “free range” bacon and imported cheddar cheese. 

It would be hypocritical of me to simply mock these people, for I am, in some small way, one of them.  Yes, I’m wearing  grass-stained jeans from Goodwill and a t-shirt that says “I Love Carbs”, so I don’t think that the pretty ladies in line would like to claim me, but I am shopping there.  I just keep wondering if I have any kindred spirits—do people think critically about their journeys to the bulk section to get Muesli and bulgur wheat?   Am I the only one experiencing a mixture of satisfaction at eating tasty food and self-loathing for fueling this smug culture? 

I have been buoyed by several recent articles attempting to tackle this very issue, most of them hilariously entertaining, to boot.  A couple of years ago (but I just found it), The Independent (UK) published an article debunking popular myths about organic food.   So, did you know that organic farmers still use pesticides, just different kinds?  And organic animals certainly aren’t cleaner: “In 2006 an Austrian and Dutch study found that a quarter of organic pigs had pneumonia against 4 per cent of conventionally raised pigs; their piglets died twice as often.”  Now, I’m not saying organic piglets are weak little sissies, but it just goes to show that you have the same variety of health in every animal.  I ate casseroles based on cream of mushroom soup as a kid, and I haven’t died yet! And did you know that organically reared cows burp twice as much methane as conventionally reared cattle?  Who wants to eat stinky, hippy cows who belch all the time?

This is the weird-smelling grocery
store in my neighborhood.  
Click here to enjoy Slate’s Troy Patterson rip the Planet Green network to shreds in 2008, including the pronouncement that host Adrian Grenier and his buddies are “douches”.  (And don’t even get me started on taking dietary advice from Gwyneth Paltrow.  She doesn’t even look like she enjoys food.)   It’s not the earth movement’s fault that they keep attracting douchey actors to their cause, but it does lead me to my next musing, which is: do average people shopping at Vitamin Cottage also have to be douches?  Because it sometimes seems that way.  Honestly, the old ladies at Safeway are a lot more courteous about sharing the aisle than at Sprouts, and there’s no dress code.  

Slate comes to the rescue again in a December 2009 article entitled, “Buy Local, Act Evil” Their findings?  Smug shoppers can sometimes be gigantic jerks.  In a University of Toronto study, “subjects who made simulated eco-friendly purchases ended up less likely to exhibit altruism in a laboratory game and more likely to cheat and steal.”  So, no, you are not a better person because you purchased that sulfide-free, fragrance-free shampoo at $16 per 8 ounces; you’re just poorer.  (But don’t get me wrong—if you have sensitive skin or dry hair, buy the shampoo!  It’s fine if you’re not in love with yourself because of it.)

Finally, all in the name of poking a little good, sarcastic fun, I love “Shopping for the most expensive possible dinner for two at Whole Foods”.    By taking snobbery in grocery shopping to its logical limit, author Noreen Malone manages to spend $443.48 on what sounds like a pretty weird-ass meal.  But I’m sure the locally sourced frisée at $12.77/lb. is much tastier than Romaine lettuce. 

Now, there might be some value in purchasing certain produce items from the organic section. New Jersey’s Environmental Center has a helpful guide of the most pesticide-ridden fruits and vegetables out there, and it might be worth considering skipping those chemical-drenched apples if you can get some that are slightly less beautiful and a whole lot less toxic.   And in the spirit of full disclosure, I readily spend more on Greek-style yogurt because I like it so much better than Dannon.  I cringe every time I see the price, but I do it anyway, because breakfast deserves to be a happy time.   Especially on Mondays. 

But in the debate over whether to get “organic”, “free range”, “cruelty free”, or “high self-esteem” eggs, it might be good enough to stick with the cheap stuff at Safeway.  Buy what you want--just don't be a butthole, OK?