This is one of my new dreams: to dump the grocery store. It’s my version of grocery smarts. There’s a financial aspect to it, so don’t worry that I’m taking a sudden left turn here on 8 Women Dream. And I wouldn’t have gotten to this dream if I hadn’t been pursuing my financial mastery dream. Isn’t that the way of all dreams? One leads to another and another.
But why dump the grocery store? Because it’s the new grocery smarts.
The modern grocery store is, in my opinion, the embodiment of what ails our culture.
- It’s supersized, and most of the stuff in it is supersized. We eat more than we need, and then we throw the excess away – because it’s so cheap and easy, it doesn’t really make sense to save it.
- It’s got endless variety, even for commodities that don’t really merit that much variety. I mean, come ON. I can think of uses for a couple types of laundry detergent, but not 20 or 30 types. Right? Variety like that is a distraction, not a service.
- Plus, most of what grocery stores sell is processed, and it’s processed in a way that persuades us it tastes “better” than the original food. That means lots of added salt and fat.
- Even the fresh produce is processed in its way. It’s picked green, trucked a zillion miles across time zones and the equator, and then stored in a warehouse with gasses blown over it to make it change color. Then it’s sold as ripe. Some stores even guarantee it’s ripe, and apparently without too much risk – because so many of us have forgotten, if we never knew, what ripe really tastes like.
- Grocery stores seduce us. Their siren song of cheap, convenient, readily-available, shelf-stable, and salty/fatty flavor lead us down a garden path. At the end of the garden path is a heart attack, the death of small family farms, and economic ruin.
Not that I’m getting dramatic, or anything.
Back in the day, when I told my mom I wished she would make canned green beans instead of fresh green beans she had picked out of my father’s garden, it’s because my grade school cafeteria had served up giant cans of processed green beans, which are cheaper than fresh, have a very long shelf-life, and are way faster to cook. A taste or two of those canned green beans turned me and a hundred other school children into processed food junkies. These are the flavors we now expect and depend on: salt and fat. Cook up a batch of green beans the old fashioned way, and they just don’t taste…right.
And so we have been taught to buy industrial food, because our tastebuds prefer it, and because it’s cheaper than fresh, and because we get more variety that way. On top of all that, a grocery store is a marketer’s dream. Oh, the claims! The cleverness. The bright, shiny colorfulness of it all. And the sheer, unabashed creativity! All in the service of getting us to buy more – even to buy more of the things that are not good for us, and that might actually kill us.
A great example is soda. At my local Safeway, they often run a special where if you buy two cases of soda, you get three free. I have scratched my head over the math on that one many times. One day I said as much to the clerk who was checking me out, and he laughed. If you worked on this side of the cash register, he said, you’d know why.
People who buy five cases of soda for the price of two perceive they have just saved a bunch of money. So they buy a whole bunch of other stuff. The store can give them three cases of soda because they know for a fact that the size of the overall order is going to be much, much bigger.
All buying is psychological. All marketing is intentional. And I know there are some romantics among you who consider marketing educational, but when it comes to industrial food I most assuredly do not share your optimism.
Industrial food marketing tells you that olive oil has no trans fats, thereby suggesting that you buy and use it because it must be good for you. The truth is, no liquid oil has trans fats. And all liquid oil – heck, all fat, except for a little tiny bit of two specific kinds, is bad for you because you are eating too much of it.
In fact, on average, people in this country who use olive oil instead of butter actually get more fat and have more weight problems than people who use butter. Why? Because olive oil is “good” for you, and therefore you’d better pour it on everything you eat. (Don’t do that. I’m being sarcastic to make a point.)
Also, wheat bread is white bread with brown coloring in it. It has no health benefits over white bread. Back in the 1970s when the idea of wheat bread became popular, industrial food realized that using true whole wheat would be expensive. So they asked focus groups what characteristics they would value in a whole wheat bread.
The number 1 response was, brown color. In fact, brown color was preferred over actual 100% whole wheat, because 100% whole wheat is not fluffy. Thus whole wheat bread was born. It’s fluffy, and it’s brown. It has the illusion of healthy. But if the label doesn’t say 100% whole wheat, you are buying fluffy white bread tinted brown.
And did you see this story last week? I first heard it on NPR. Feed corn has gone up in price because of a drought in the midwest, and there’s a shortage of it. Hog and cattle farmers have had to get creative, because they can’t afford the feed corn to fatten up the livestock.
They need big animals, because they’re paid by the pound, and their profit margins are slim indeed, if they’re producing for industrial food. So some of them have found another food that produces the weight and saves the farm. The hogs and cows just love it.
Would you like to take a guess? If you didn’t hear the story, you won’t guess right. I hope.
Stale hard candy. Last year’s Halloween chocolates. Those old stuck together Christmas ribbon candies. Maybe some marshmallow bunnies from Easter 2010.
No, I am not kidding. You can fatten up livestock pretty fast on stale candy, and that ensures you get your price at market. Whew. Ribs for dinner, anyone?
So that’s why I dream of dumping the grocery store, in a nutshell. A hog deserves a better life, and so does the farmer who raised it.