Monday, June 12, 2006

Supermarket Sleuth

Okay how awesome is this, a day after deciding that I'm going to open up my blog to talking about food and eating in general (along with the primary focus on Trader Joe's, can't hurt the feelings of my beloved Joe), a great article appears in Salon about shopping in American supermarkets.

Jun. 12, 2006 | If you've seen "Super Size Me," Morgan Spurlock's hilarious documentary about fast food, you've already met Marion Nestle. She's the only person in the movie who is able to offer a coherent definition of a calorie.

Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food science and public health at New York University, has long been a leading critic of the salty, fatty, sugary junk that passes for food in America, and especially the way it's hawked to kids. She blasts the U.S. government for allowing the food industry to determine public health policy on everything from the food pyramid to transfats. And her books, such as "Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health," have inspired such fear and trembling from Big Food that she's been smeared as a "diet scold" and, even more feverishly, as "one of the country's most hysterical anti-food-industry fanatics."

Nestle's new book, "What to Eat: An Aisle-by-Aisle Guide to Savvy Food Choices and Good Eating," brings her analysis of food politics into the grocery store, giving shoppers advice on what to buy and what to leave on the shelves. Armed with a notebook and calculator, Nestle spent a year in the field -- or, in this case, the produce, beverage, cereal and dairy aisles -- making observations about what's actually being sold. She came away stunned at the blizzard of choices offered up in the average Safeway or Kroger, and how easy it is for consumers to be bamboozled by marketing messages masquerading as nutritional data.

Read the entire article here.

I'm actually interested in seeing what advice Nestle give's on shopping in the typcial Safeway or Kroger (or in my case Vons and Albertsons). The silliest observation (and I've always wondered if it means anything) that I always have after a shopping trip to Vons vs. a shopping trip to Trader Joe's is how brightly colored and cheerful and fakely excited (Low Fat! Half The Fat! Half the Sugar! Half the fat none of the sugar!) all my foods are that I buy from Vons. The Trader Joe's food never screams at me. And it is usually in tastefully muted colored packages, browns and oranges and blues. Are those the colors of soothing organic farmers? I wonder if TJs did any focus groups with organic food buyers and found out that brown and blue were their favorite colors (hey I'm a market research I have to wonder)

I mean just compare the bag of Roasted & Salted In-The-Shell Virginia peanuts that I bought at TJs to the typical jar of Skippy peanut butter. Don't get me wrong I love bright orange and teal together as a color combo, just maybe not on my food. My TJs peanuts are in a clear bag with a pretty dark blue painting of the sun rising over a river next to a field where I assume that peanuts are grown (are peanuts nuts from trees? grown in a field? who knows they are so delicious, sorry to mock your peanut allergy, Nancy).

But really if you buy the main argument that most food is marketed to kids (and to the kid in all of us) then it makes sense that our foods are packaged in cheery bright fake colors. I never feel good about bringing home all that fake happy packaging because I know that most of it I shouldn't be eating. Yes I'll admit that this weekend Paul and I had an accidental overdose of El Monterey Taquitos in a happy red package that if I had really read closely I would have seen that my taquitos were now 50% LARGER which seriously when you factor in the fact that we didn't even need to overdose on taquitos in the first place did we really need taquitos that were 50% larger?

Well the taquitos just went in the trash, the happy red packaging just went in the recycling and I'm going to renew my pledge to eat only foods that come packaged in muted earth tones.


Kartik said...

Excellent work on slipping "the kid in all of us" into your blog. Very poignant.

Ok, I agree that it is evil that the food industry is setting food eating guidelines, but seriousluy, when was the last time you based your food decisions on the food pyramid? I mean, I know they just overhauled it and all, but it still looks like it is out of the '50s.

And at the risk of sounding like an evil Republican, people do need to take a little responsibility for figuring out which foods are good and not just reading the marketing messages on the packaging. I have defintiely realized in the last year how un-aware most people, or at least most guys, are about what is healthy vs. what seems healthy. At the end of the day, you have to count calories, and to a lesser degree fat. That is what is going to make you thin or fat, and trying to trick yourself with "good fats" and "bad fats" and imagining that Baja Fresh is somehow "Health Mex" is just going to screw you over. Do a little research, figure out the calories, and then look at the Nutrition Information.

It's a pain in the ass and it takes all the fun out of eating. But it is the only way to actually know what you are stuffing into your mouth.

ilana said...

first of all I had to re-read my post to see where I actually wrote "the kid in all of us". Goddamn that was cheesy.

oh crap I didn't mean to make it sound like I don't think people need to take responsibility for their own actions. I'm all about personal responsibility. Like is it really McDonald's fault that I eat their yummy tasty food? Morgan Spurlock can make it seem like McDonald's sprinkles crack cocaine in their food and sells it for $1 on the dollar menu. But really we are all responsible for whether or not we drive thru the drive thru or walk to the Subway restaurant at the end of our street. Metaphorically speaking of course.

And your little evil Republican post about personal responsibility reminds me of the second funniest thing I ever read on the Onion.

Hershey's Ordered To Pay Obese Americans $135 Billion

Goddamn the onion is the funniest thing I've ever read.